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Hindsight - UFC Japan: Saint Preux vs. Okami in retrospect

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Get the thoughts and musings of Dayne Fox on UFC Japan, from the surprising debut victory of Daichi Abe in the opener to the signature Von Flue choke victory for Ovince Saint Preux in the main event.

UFC Japan was an overlooked card by most of the public and I can’t say that I can’t blame them. A main event of Ovince Saint Preux and Yushin Okami? The contest turned out to be as lopsided as we all thought it would be. However, there were a few developments that were worth noting. A former title contender at women’s strawweight strengthened her case for another shot at the gold while eliminating a rival. The most intriguing development was the victory of a former kickboxing champion in his first MMA contest in 13 years at 205.

Here’s my thoughts on UFC Japan with every fight and fighter involved broken down. The format is simple. The first bullet covers what was expected to happen and an attempt at a brief summary of what did happen. The next two bullets cover my thoughts on each fighter, how they did, and where they might be headed from here with the winner being covered first.

Daichi Abe defeated Hyun Gyu Lim via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Though the odds indicated the fight was largely a pick ‘em, most of the Bloody Elbow staff was picking Lim as Abe was still very much an unknown quantity. I went with Abe anyway as Lim has become someone I can’t trust. Abe’s counter game was spot on in the first round as Lim continued to lean in too far in his attacks. Lim adjusted after the first, focusing more on landing his offense rather than scoring a kill shot and slowly picked apart the youngster. Abe focused more on low kicks in the final round before delivering a brutal right hook with about 30 seconds left, flooring Lim. Though Abe continued the assault, it wasn’t enough to secure the finish. It did allow him to steal the round, proving to be enough to take the fight.
  • Abe: I know I was higher on Abe than most of my colleagues, making his victory a bit redeeming for me. The kid is brutally tough with a knack for finding openings to land one of his heavy counters. The one he landed near the end of the fight was a unorthodox, making it extremely difficult for Lim to anticipate. I loved the judo throw before the fight ended too, showing greater ability to get the fight to the ground than I knew. I like Abe’s future. I’m going to be watching his progress closely.
  • Lim: This wasn’t a bad performance by the massive welterweight. In fact, this was his best showing since destroying Takenori Sato. Lim adjusted after the first round and looked like he was on his way to a decision victory. I don’t want to say he let his guard down near the end of the fight as he avoided Abe’s first wave, but he sure as hell let victory slip through his fingers as his defense once again failed him. With three losses in a row and four in his last five appearances, Lim could be at the end of his UFC rope. Then again, the UFC doesn’t seem to be cutting anyone these days….

Shinsho Anzai defeated Luke Jumeau via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: It had been two years since Anzai last competed, bringing a high level of mystery to what he would could do whereas Jumeau showed heart and resilience in defeating Dominique Steele earlier this year. Jumeau let Anzai push the pace, attempting to counter primarily with his renowned uppercuts. Though Jumeau did score a few clean hits, it wasn’t enough to counterbalance Anzai’s aggressive offense heavy on hooks and takedowns. Aa Anzai began to gas in the final round, Jumeau tried to unleash a final torrent of offense in the clinch, but it wasn’t enough in the end.
  • Anzai: Anzai has made huge leaps and bounds since his UFC debut. Then again, that was three years ago. You’d hope someone fairly young in their career would do that. It appeared he did some film study on Jumeau, making control his top priority once he got the fight to the ground rather than letting Jumeau escape and scramble. Anzai’s striking is still very raw, convincing me he’ll never be more than a lower-level welterweight, but that’s not all bad considering many didn’t even expect him to still be on the roster at this juncture.
  • Jumeau: Jumeau disappointed heavily in his contest. A cleaner striker with a far deeper arsenal, Jumeau was content to let Anzai push the pace. Jumeau has improved his countering ability, but I always thought he was at his best on the offensive. Sitting back played right into Anzai’s hands. Jumeau isn’t as young as most would predict, having begun his career back in 2008. That doesn’t mean Jumeau can’t improve moving forward, but don’t expect any major leaps and bounds.

Syuri Kondo defeated Chan-Mi Jeon via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: Two of the most interesting prospects in the division, Kondo is a former pro wrestler and kickboxer while Jeon turned 20 just a few months ago. Kondo started a bit slow, but once she found her footing, she never relented on the pressure. Short and basic punch-kick combinations were at the heart of her attack as she moved Jeon around the cage where she wanted. Jeon responded with plenty of return fire, but ate far more strikes than she landed to give Kondo a pretty clear decision… despite what one judge thought.
  • Kondo: Though Kondo is best known for her professional wrestling career, it was her kickboxing that really shined in this contest. She got a read on Jeon early to make her adjustments and never relented on the pressure. Most impressive was her continual punches over the top of Jeon’s jabs and straight punches. Kondo’s MMA debut was less than 18 months ago. She still has a lot to learn. Keep an eye on her.
  • Jeon: Jeon is a joy to watch as she is tough and very animated in the cage. However, she puts almost zero emphasis on defense and never made any adjustments after Kondo figured her out. Given her youth – still only 20-years old – these aren’t surprising developments and no reason to get up in arms about her future. The problem is that Jeon has now lost two contests in the UFC against one of the lower-level members in the division in JJ Aldrich and the least experienced member in the division in Kondo. I’m sure Jeon will get another opportunity, but she needs to make good on her third chance.

Keita Nakamura defeated Alex Morono via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: One of the savviest fighters on the roster, it was surprising to see Nakamura as a slight underdog to Morono on some lines. When the fight began, it became clear to me why. Nakamura sat back and allowed Morono to dictate the pace, throwing less than one punch to every two thrown by the American without any attempt to go to the ground. Even though Morono threw far more volume, he wasn’t landing at a significantly higher clip. That spelled bad news as Nakamura began increasing his strike attempts after the first round as Nakamura began landing kicks to the legs and body of Morono. Nakamura added a few takedowns in the third to compliment his volume and steal a win that Morono seemingly had well in hand early on.
  • Nakamura: Nakamura continue his win-loss-win-loss pattern with this win, but this is probably the least inspiring performance I’ve seen out of him since returning to the UFC. A strong argument could be made that Morono is the least talented of Nakamura’s opponents and he nearly gave the fight away by letting Morono push the pace while providing little resistance in return. Why not go for the takedowns earlier? It likely would have opened up more striking opportunities earlier. Perhaps Nakamura is slowing down as he has well over 40 fights on his ledger in a career that began 14 years ago. He did do enough to win, but he appears to be in decline.
  • Morono: Despite the loss, there were many more encouraging developments for Morono than for Nakamura moving forward. Morono has long been seen as a wild brawler with little to no technique. While I wouldn’t take away the label of a brawler, he did look a lot smoother in his strikes, putting together fluid combinations. A hand injury clearly interfered with his strike selection late in the fight, limiting his effectiveness as he rarely threw his right after that. Morono’s wrestling looks like it will continue to be an Achilles heel too as Nakamura’s shots were hardly unstoppable. Bottom line: I’m still not sure what to make of Morono four fights into his UFC career.

Jussier Formiga defeated Ulka Sasaki via submission at 4:30 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Long one of the top gatekeepers in the flyweight division, Formiga asked to face the lanky Sasaki in Sasaki’s home country of Japan. Given Sasaki was fresh off an upset over Justin Scoggins, it wasn’t as ridiculous of a contest as it appeared at first glance. Sasaki took an early lead with a kick-heavy attack from the outside, looking to keep the much shorter Formiga at bay. Formiga eventually caught one of the kicks, turning it into a takedown. From there, it was a clinic in guard advancement with Formiga eventually getting Sasaki’s back as the Japan native tried climbing back to his feet. Formiga soon found a choke and got a tap with 30 seconds to go in the round.
  • Formiga: Who would have thought Formiga would get the first finish of the night? To be fair, Formiga absolutely needed a finish if he wanted his name to be mentioned in title contention as Formiga’s lack of flash has been the biggest thing keeping the UFC from giving him a push. Perhaps that’s why he asked for Sasaki, knowing his aggressiveness would result in an opening Formiga could exploit. However, Formiga also showed some uncharacteristic aggressiveness going for the finish. He would have been wise to call out Sergio Pettis who doesn’t appear to be far from a title shot himself and hasn’t answered all of the questions many have had about his ground game. They did have a scheduled fight at one point….
  • Sasaki: I’d say this performance typifies Sasaki. He’s aggressive as hell which will provide some moments where he is performing above his typical level – represented by his early standup – and others where it will cost him such as when Formiga secured the finish. Granted, he has reined in some of his wildness since first entering the UFC, but he can still be exploited. Nonetheless, his frame alone makes him a difficult matchup at flyweight which is why I don’t see this loss as too big of a setback. Rather than launching him against top ten opponents, I’d like to see the UFC take their time with him.

Teruto Ishihara defeated Rolando Dy via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: After a promising start to his UFC career, Ishihara hit a couple of roadblocks and needed a win in the worst way. Given his charisma, the UFC didn’t want to cut him loose and gave him another raw prospect in Dy. Ishihara jumped to an early lead with a powerful left hand that dropped Dy. Ishihara followed to the ground with strikes and a guillotine attempt, but Dy found a way to survive the round. Dy came out the aggressor from there as Ishihara’s old habit of gassing after the first round reemerged. Dy put together some slick punch-kick combinations, working over Ishihara’s body. Unfortunately, he also landed multiple shots to the groin of Ishihara, forcing the referee to take a point on the final shot and securing the win for Ishihara.
  • Ishihara: I’m worried that Ishihara’s development may be stalling out. He’s made minimal progress since his UFC entry, showing some development in his takedowns and a bit more depth in his gas tank. However, based on my personal opinion, he has yet to win a single round beyond the first. We’re now six fights into his UFC career. He did look better in rounds two and three here than he has in previous contests and the takedowns were a nice touch, but Dy is hardly a good opponent to measure your wrestling progress. Ishihara’s personality is gold and he’s dangerous in the first round, but it won’t mean anything if he can’t show significant progress.
  • Dy: I feel similar to Dy’s overall showing as I do towards Ishihara’s wrestling: though Dy looked sharp in the last two rounds, Ishihara is hardly a good measuring stick in those rounds. Regardless, he did a fantastic job mixing up his strikes, an unusual trait for a young prospect from a scene with questionable competition. Then again, his father is a well-renowned former professional boxer. Dy has some promise and showed he’s capable of beating lower-level competition on the UFC roster, but I think he’d be better off plying his trade on the regional scene for a year or two, focusing on bettering his takedown defense.

Gokhan Saki defeated Henrique da Silva via KO at 4:45 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: After a championship kickboxing career, Saki sought a new challenge and crossed over to MMA. With the obvious questions about his grappling and takedown defense, the UFC lined him up against noted brawler Henrique da Silva. Da Silva did exactly what the UFC hoped he would do: standing in the pocket with the former Glory champion and the early results were disastrous for the Brazilian. Thanks to his toughness, da Silva survived and began closing the distance, fighting in the clinch and looking for takedowns. Unable to get one, da Silva began to turn the tide anyway as Saki began to fade. Just when it appeared da Silva had Saki on the ropes, Saki launched a trademark left hook that floored da Silva to immediately end the contest.
  • Saki: Hard to figure out how the debut for Saki could have been much better. Sure, he could have blown da Silva out of the water from the jump, but the competitiveness makes it a far more memorable contest and all the more reason to watch Saki going forward. Saki outlined what he needs to work on in his post-fight speech: adjusting to the longer rounds in MMA and his wrestling and grappling. He did show some signs in his wrestling by throwing da Silva to the ground briefly, but his takedown defense is the most encouraging sign. If he can keep the fight standing, the grappling matters less. He did that against da Silva.
  • Da Silva: Considering his durability, it’s a bit of a shame da Silva couldn’t increase his fight IQ. With his UFC employment likely on the line, da Silva should have been working hard on his wrestling to get Saki to the ground as fast as possible. Instead, he felt the need to prove he could hang with Saki on the feet. Sure, he did well towards the end of the round, but again, that was after Saki gassed. Ultimately, da Silva paid the price for standing in front of one of the world’s most dangerous and savvy striker.

Dong Hyun Kim defeated Takanori Gomi via TKO at 1:30 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Gomi had been finished quickly in each of his previous four contests, giving little reason for anyone to believe the result would be any different against Kim. Reports indicated Gomi looked good, taking the training for the contest seriously. He didn’t look to bad in the opening minute either, avoiding a few Kim strikes and landing a nice punch of his own. Then Kim landed with his first clean punch and it was the beginning of the end. Gomi hit the canvas and a few hammer fists from Kim caused the referee to step in.
  • Kim: While Gomi is easily the biggest name on Kim’s list of career victims, it does very little to advance his career. Gomi is shot. Regardless, Kim avoided coming out of the contest with a loss and deserves kudos for avoiding a brawl, something many believed he would do. Instead, Kim continues to show further maturity as he did in his win over Brendan O’Reilly by focusing on his opponent’s weakness and attacking there. It will be interesting to see who the UFC lines him up with next.
  • Gomi: I don’t want to see Gomi fight anymore. Nobody wants to see Gomi fight anymore. What does he have to prove? That he can win a fight despite his prime having long passed? A losing streak like this surely won’t overshadow the incredible accomplishments from earlier in his career, but it certainly does leave a bit of a stain. Even worse, there are whispers that he may be throwing these fights. I know only Gomi can decide when to call it a career, but I’d just assume see the UFC cut him loose. His losing continually in this manner isn’t doing anyone any favors.

Jessica Andrade defeated Claudia Gadelha via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: With Joanna Jedrzejczyk notching the only losses at strawweight for these women, it was a highly anticipated contest with the potential to set up the winner in a rematch for the title. Given Gadelha gave Jedrzejczyk a better run for her money, it wasn’t a surprise she was the favorite. How heavy of a favorite was a bit surprising. She started out on fire, pressuring Andrade with a barrage of punches that opened a cut on Andrade’s forehead. The momentum swung when Andrade lifted Gadelha over her head for a body slam and delivered some brutal ground-and-pound to close the first round. The second and third rounds were all Andrade, the second being contested mostly on the feet while the third was Andrade brutalizing Gadelha with more ground-and-pound. When all was said and done, both were a bloody mess, but Andrade was the clear victor.
  • Andrade: Though I wouldn’t have necessarily been surprised had Andrade won, I didn’t expect it to be so one-sided. Beating Gadelha is one thing. Bullying her from pillar to post is another as Gadelha is one of the strongest strawweights in the sport. But here we are with Andrade not only strengthening her position to get another title shot, but eliminating one of her strongest competitors to receive a shot as well. Should Jedrzejczyk emerge victorious in her defense against Rose Namajunas, I’d wait to give Andrade another shot so quickly as Jedrzejczyk beat her quite soundly. But should Namajunas prove to be victorious, I wouldn’t mind giving Andrade the shot ahead of a rematch for Jedrzejzcyk. Seriously, Andrade looked that good against Gadelha. Regardless, a not-so-bold prediction is that Andrade will be fighting for the title again.
  • Gadelha: Many have already declared this as the end of Gadelha’s days as a contender. Does this really mark the end of Gadelha’s days as a contender? I’m not so sure. Gadelha is only 28-years old and has shown the willingness to make adjustments in order to improve herself. I’m not saying she’s going to come back and beat Andrade in a rematch any time soon, but Gadelha should remain near the top for the next few years and could get another shot at the title depending on how the title picture plays out over the next little while. Remember how many people said Miesha Tate would never get another crack at the gold after her second loss to Ronda Rousey? How about those who said Michael Bisping would never sniff a title? I’m also curious if Gadelha suffered an injury at some point. She did tell her corner between the second and third round she couldn’t see, which would obviously affect her performance. Don’t write off Gadelha yet.

Ovince Saint Preux defeated Yushin Okami via submission at 1:50 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: This felt lopsided from the beginning and not just because Okami came in on short notice. Given Okami’s last contest was contested at welterweight, it was clear he’d be at a large size discrepancy against Saint Preux. Okami tried to get the fight to the ground from the beginning only for the larger Saint Preux to easily stuff the takedown attempt and get the top position on Okami. Okami decided to wrap his arm around Saint Preux’s head, setting himself up to be choked out with a Von Flue choke… Saint Preux’s third of his UFC career.
  • Saint Preux: While the victory was impressive, it was gift-wrapped to Saint Preux as Okami should have known better than to wrap his arm around Saint Preux’s head from the bottom. Has he never studied footage on Saint Preux? That should be Grappling 101 at this point. Nonetheless, the win puts Saint Preux’s streak at two in a row since snapping his three-fight skid. It isn’t enough to put him back into contention given a win over Okami means almost nothing at 205, but one more should put his name back into title talk as improbable as that seemed after his loss to Volkan Oezdemir. I hope the UFC avoids rebooking him against Shogun Rua – a contest nobody wanted to see run back – and gives him a fresh face.
  • Okami: Well… at least he got himself back into the UFC. Okami’s path to victory has long been dependent on him being able to bully and grind out his opponents. He lacks punching power. He’s never been much of a submission artist. How the hell was he going to beat Saint Preux? He wasn’t. The question now is whether Okami will be going all the way back down to welterweight – where he’s been fighting most recently – or to his longtime home at middleweight. Okami hasn’t been beating top competition, so it’s hard to say how much he has left in the tank. Regardless of where he goes, Okami’s days of being a contender are long over.

Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time….