In the main event of the evening at UFC 134, reigning UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva (30-4) will attempt to increase his streak of consecutive defenses to nine as he battles UFC veteran Yushin Okami (26-5). Okami has been hyped as the best Japanese fighter to ever grace the Octagon, and he's also been labeled as the last man to defeat Anderson Silva. The former is true, but the latter statement comes with an asterisk .
That asterisk would talk about the 2006 Rumble on the Rock welterweight tournament encounter between two younger versions of both fighters. Silva easily outclassed Okami on the feet in that contest before being taken down to the ground and dealing with Okami's offense from the top. Unfortunately, Silva landed an illegal upkick from his back, stopping the fight and incapacitating Okami. Silva was disqualified.
Silva went on to win fourteen straight, including the UFC middleweight title. Okami lost in the Rumble on the Rock tournament final to Jake Shields, but amassed a 12-3 record over the last four years, losing when he was a step away from title contention. Despite Okami's success, it was clear that his style wasn't winning him any fans with the UFC's brass as he was consistently passed on in terms of promotion for large events. Saturday night will be the culmination of Okami's efforts to prove he's truly the best 185 pounder on the planet.
In recent bouts, Okami's striking has improved substantially. He lit up Finland-based grappler Lucio Linhares like a Christmas tree at UFC Fight Night 21, and he landed some choice shots that stunned Nate Marquardt at UFC 122 in November. He's also maintained his status as one of the strongest middleweights on the roster, stuffing vaunted NCAA Division I wrestler Mark Munoz and narrowly edging him on the scorecards at UFC on Versus 2.
I'd be ignorant to believe Okami's improvements on the feet matter in this fight however. Those improvements have helped Okami get to this point in his career, but Silva is the most devastating striker in the sport, both in the clinch and from range. His quickness will easily thwart Okami's attempts, and it will likely lead to his demise.
What can Okami possibly do to win on Saturday night within the hostile environment of the HSBC Arena? Grow some thick skin, man up, and drive forward at Silva, ala Chael Sonnen. It seems absurd to suggest the same exact gameplan that Sonnen used to take on Silva, but it's difficult to ignore the effectiveness of it. Okami is considered freakishly strong for this weight class, and he needs to utilize that in the best way possible. Controlling Silva on the ground.
For all the great things that Okami possesses, he lacks the trickery or drive to pummel through Silva's takedown defenses however. He's exceptional in thwarting opponents who attempt to put him on his back. Silva isn't that type of fighter. Silva should be able to use his footwork and ranged attacks to pepper Okami from range, avoiding his takedown attempts and blasting him out of the water in front of his countrymen. The only way that doesn't happen? If Chael Sonnen influenced Okami enough to improve those weaknesses in the takedown game. If that has happened, we're in for a real war. I'll go with Silva because... quite frankly, how can you not?