Most casual fans (and even many among the hardcore contingent) you'll speak to about this Saturday's main event at UFC 134: Rio will have very little hesitation picking the champion to successfully defend his title. Anderson Silva has the most number of consecutive wins in the UFC and has gone undefeated thus far within the promotion. He's been the closest to a sure thing in the often times chaotic world of Mixed Martial Arts fighting.
The first fight between Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami is ancient history on the combat timeline. Both fighters are radically different today in comparison to back then having evolved in their own way to adapt to the ever changing challenges this sport can present. Okami's striking has improved significantly just during his tenure in the UFC but I think it'd be foolish to think he'd come out the better in a strictly stand up fight this weekend. When Chael Sonnen had success on the feet against Anderson Silva it was likely because of the very real threat of him shooting for and getting a takedown against Silva that kept the champ guessing. This will likely be the key for Okami in getting the fight to the ground; to use committed strikes to setup his wrestling shots.
What I'll be looking at in this Judo Chop is Okami's ability to survive inside a dangerous guard which Anderson Silva is also known for. When The Spider has been put on his back in previous fights he's put those legs to good use to eventually ensnare his opponents in a bout ending triangle-choke as we saw against Travis Lutter and Chael Sonnen.
Okami has fought BJJ blackbelts in the past, and while his fight with Nate Marquardt is the most recent I don't feel it's the most relevant as Marquardt's submission strengths lie more in his top game. Instead I'm going to be looking at the guard of Dean Lister which Okami was able to survive and even successfully attack within.
Join me after the jump for some detailed, animated gif analysis on attacking the guard.Yushin Okami vs Dean Lister, UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008
Block and Escape
One thing about this fight should be abundantly clear: Dean Lister is not a striker. You'll hear Joe Rogan during commentary lament that there's no professional Jiu Jitsu league that's monetarily comparably to MMA otherwise guys like Lister (in his opinion) would only do that instead. Lister's striking is rudimentary and his offensive wrestling to get the fight to the ground often appears half-hearted. Lister is very much of the old school that looks to pull guard as his main standing offensive. In this first sequence we see Lister attempt a takedown that Okami defends and whizzers with ease and Lister fights to secure a leg of Okami in a half-guard. Lister obviously feels he's in no submission danger and Okami doesn't try for something like a Brabo choke instead focusing on blocking Lister from getting any closer. Okami uses a short underhook that allows him to use his arm as a block and put weight into Lister's ribs making him uncomfortable enough to move, before cross-facing him to his back where Lister looks to lock up a guard. Okami's right arm is trapped on the ground and Lister looks to secure it perhaps with a leghook guard or the start of rubber guard, but with his other leg inside instead of outside Okami's leg he can't secure anything and Okami is able to posture up and back out to his feet safely.
Later in the round Lister tries a similar strategy after a failed shot but Okami uses a sprawl and partial front headlock to escape while making sure Lister can't follow him and grab a leg in the process. It's a pretty cool sequence to watch but not relevant to this judo chop - although knowing my luck Anderson Silva could well change the game up on everyone and attempt to out-wrestle Okami, which would certainly be remarkable to see.
At this point in the first round Lister has given up with takedowns and has jumped guard. He has an over-under grip on Okami and has opened his guard in order to work from it but Okami is able to posture up out of it to stand and to throw strikes. Lister shin-blocks Okami and looks to rotate to set up a leglock but Okami has an arm inside to stop Lister hugging closer and rolling for what would likely be a kneebar. Lister looks to grab at the ankles or toes, unlikely going for a submission but to bring Okami's leg inwards (sometimes referred to as Windshield Wiping) to get Okami off his knees and onto his butt so that Lister can get on top of him or to get Okami to pull his arms out to stabilise but give up his attacked leg in the process. Lister even tries to strike from the bottom and gets a leg inside in order to open Okami up but Okami patiently keeps his position and over-leg rides Lister while hand fighting him to make sure he doesn't have a grip he can roll with. Okami controls Lister with an inside leg pry and is able to land some shots from the Offensive (wrestling) position though is warned about the back of the head proximity by Referee Herb Dean as the round comes to a close.
Okami's confidence has grown by the middle of round 2 and he begins to willing engage inside of Lister's Guard. Lister grabs his leg like a leghook guard but this time has both arms to the side of Okami's head in a variation that's become known as the Shawn Williams Guard named after BJJ Blackbelt Shawn Williams who became known for using the variation. The variation allows for you to keep the opponent's posture down and push them off center-line giving you more control, but your hips aren't flattened or knees torqued in the process making it a viable and safer alternative to Mission Control and the beginning sequence of Rubber Guard transitions. Lister succeeds in controlling Okami to an extent and it's not until he brings his foot across Okami's head and face to either look for an Omoplata or Gogoplata that Okami is able to posture up and limp-arm out before driving his hips forward to smash Lister's open guard and start landing some Ground'n'Pound. Okami's ability to survive what can be considered an advanced level of guard work bodes well for him in his fight with Silva who has mostly used the traditional method of closed guard and double wrist control.
As mentioned, Okami no longer fears Lister's guard and almost dives in to land some blows. Once inside Okami is able to measure his strikes while Lister fights for wrist control that Okami is hand-fighting to prevent. Lister switches to half guard as well; his willingness to go form guard to half guard suggests a sweep is in mind, but as we've seen in previous Judo Chops wrestlers can maintain posture and use the opponent's half guard to their advantage by Turking the leg. Okami doesn't have a full Turk as he's not elevating his leg but he has a very strong posture. Okami also stops Lister standing up using a Front Headlock and keeping him collapsed on the mat. Considering Silva may want to get back to his feet as he has a definitive adantage there, Okami's ability to keep the fight grounded while staying out of danger will be important. He'll also need to stay busy enough to avoid the referee prematurely standing him up.
Okami again shows little concern for Lister's guard. What's interesting here is that Okami maintains a great posture while never over committing to his strikes. He never throws a punch unless he has cleared Lister's grip through hand-fighting and when he does throw he brings his arms back in tight so he's not exposed. Hand finding is perhaps the most important part of working inside someone's guard whether to strike or to break and pass. The one who controls the grips is usually the one who controls how the fight will proceed. It may lack 'action' but I felt it was enough to maintain the fight on the ground and so referee Herb Dean's stand up feels more like a response to the crowd booing, something I wish referees would do better to ignore. I just hope the crowd in Rio who will likely be partisan towards Silva won't effect the referee and end up giving Okami a raw deal when it comes to officiating.
Even since this fight with Lister, Okami has shown improvements both standing and on the ground such as his fight with Lucio Linhares. In that fight Okami's striking is noticeably crisper using stiff jabs and short uppercuts to drop Linhares, and he shut down the repeated deep half guard attempts of Linhares when it did go to the ground. Linhares looked just as big as Okami during that fight and while he's no Anderson Silva, his striking was certainly better than Lister's and Okami handled it with ease. I believe this Saturday Okami is a very live underdog and in my opinion really does have the athleticism and skill-set to beat Silva with less of the short comings Chael Sonnen has shown that could cost him the victory. All eras come to an end, and we may see the greatest fighter in the history of the UFC fall to the Thunder form Japan.