UFC president Dana White caused a minor stir recently with his comment that Yushin Okami was "the best fighter to ever come out of Japan." While I'd debate the assertion that Okami is the best Japanese fighter ever, if White's point is that Okami is the best fighter to leave Japan and fight in the UFC, it's a point that's impossible to debate. Mostly because Japanese fighters have been awful in the UFC.
While I knew that Japanese fighters were 1-6 in the UFC this year, it still took me by surprise just how bad they have performed over a longer period of time.
Since Zuffa's first event, UFC 30, Japanese mixed martial artists have compiled a 24-46-2 record. That's a 33% win ratio. Okami has gone 10-2 during his UFC run. Remove him and the rest of the field has a 14-44-2 record, dropping them to 23%.
So, with Okami breaking the trend of miserable UFC performance by Japanese fighters we can now wonder if he can also break the trend of losses in title fights.
UFC 29 saw two Japanese fighters come up short as Pat Miletich drubbed Kenichi Yamamoto (winner of the Ultimate Japan 2 tournament) before submitting him in round two. In the main event of the evening Yuki Kondo managed to land an early flying knee that floored champion Tito Ortiz. But Ortiz rolled through, got back on his feet and took Kondo down, blitzing him with ground and pound before neck cranking him for the submission just under two minutes into the fight.
At UFC 30, Caol Uno got the first of his two shots at a UFC title. Jens Pulver was riding high after sleeping John Lewis with a single punch at UFC 28. Pulver would win the first ever UFC lightweight championship (then called the bantamweight title) by keeping the fight standing and getting the better of the stand-up and earning a majority decision.
Uno would earn another shot at the lightweight title at UFC 41, beating Din Thomas in the first round of a tournament for the title which was left vacant when Pulver left the UFC. Standing across from him was the man who beat him in just 11 seconds at UFC 34, B.J. Penn. Penn and Uno would fail to deliver what the UFC wanted, battling to a draw and effectively killing the lightweight division in the promotion for over three years.
One of the greatest fighters in the history of Japan, Hayato Sakurai would come up short in his only UFC fight at UFC 36. Brought in as a challange to newly crowned champion Matt Hughes, Sakurai would be dominated and suffer the second loss in his impressive career.
Despite the rich history and tradition of both mixed and traditional martial arts in Japan, the failures in the UFC are impossible to overlook. Okami has the chance to change that image in a single fight this Saturday night when he faces off with Anderson Silva. A win and he not only becomes the first Japanese UFC champion and continues his legacy of the best of his countrymen to fight in the promotion but also stakes a legitimate claim to being the best ever from his country.
Of course, the good bet is on another UFC failure for a Japanese fighter.