MMA in Japan has never recovered, but the nation still generates talent that is sometimes exported to top international promotions like the UFC. Chief among them is Yushin Okami, a strapping middleweight with a 26-5 overall record, and wins in 10 of his 12 UFC fights.
On Saturday, Okami will attempt to become the first Japanese fighter to win a UFC championship. The obstacle in front of him has been MMA’s greatest fighter since 2006, Brazilian Anderson “The Spider” Silva. If that isn’t enough of a challenge, Okami will be faced with beating Silva on his home turf; the UFC is returning to Brazil for the first time since 1998. It’s just one of the storylines we examine in the UFC 134 Event Primer.
Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami
HSBC Arena, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - August 27
The Roots of A Historic Streak
Silva currently holds the record for most consecutive UFC victories: 13. Overall, he’s won 14 in a row. And if it wasn’t for Okami, he would boast a 17-fight win streak. The pair fought in January 2006, with Silva suffering a disqualification loss for an illegal upkick.
Despite the defeat, the strike has entered into MMA lore. At the time, Silva was flat on his back, with Okami in his open guard and looking to strike from the top. Instead, Silva whipped his leg from behind Okami’s back and struck him on the chin with his heel, knocking him out. Because Okami’s knees were on the mat, it was ruled an illegal strike, and Silva was DQ’d. Since then, Silva has been MMA’s Mr. Perfect.
Okami goes by the nickname “Thunder,” yet he is one of MMA’s most mysterious top-level fighters. Little is known about him personally, and during interviews, he is known to offer simple one-sentence answers. Okami has had trouble connecting with UFC fans for other reasons though, namely, his proclivity to go to decision. In his 12 UFC bouts, he’s gone the distance eight times, and has only finished two of his last seven opponents (that contrasts greatly with Silva, who has finished 11 of his 13 UFC foes.
Mauricio Rua’s physical style has led to a slew of injuries as well as much doubt about how long his body will hold up. So the former UFC light-heavyweight champion has much at stake when he faces Forrest Griffin in the co-main event. The two faced off once before, back in 2007, and Griffin -- a big underdog at the time -- upset Rua with a third-round submission.
Rua made no excuses at the time, but we later found out he needed knee surgery from mounting injuries. Since then, Rua has shown moments of brilliance, but he was overwhelmed by Jon Jones in their UFC 128 title fight, and recently there have been whispers that Rua is hurt once again. His camp strongly denied the rumors, but Rua was supposed to beat Griffin once, and he didn’t. Now he’s supposed to beat him again. If he can’t, it will be a long, uphill climb towards gold.
What’s Left in Nogueira’s Tank?
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is by most accounts a top five all-time heavyweight. Yet the man once known for taking ungodly amounts of punishment and coming back has been knocked unconscious in two of his last three fights, leading many to voice concern about his long-term health. Facing upstart Brendan Schaub at UFC 134, Nogueira is coming off the longest layoff of his career, 18 months. That time was spent recovering from knee and hip surgery, but it’s hoped by many that the layoff offered his entire body a chance to heal up.
Schaub is a relative newcomer to this sport, with just over three years’ experience. If Nogueira can’t find a way to beat him, his days as a top heavyweight are likely behind him.
One to Watch
The best long-term prospect on the card is a native son, Brazilian-born lightweight Edson Barboza. The unbeaten fighter moved to 8-0 in March with a unanimous decision over Anthony Njokuani. He flashes an impressive mix of skill and power on his feet with a strong Muay Thai influence. Though he’s a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, he’s reportedly progressing quickly in the discipline, and he has flashed good wrestling skills when called upon. Just 25, Barboza has a big future.
The Rio fans will have plenty to cheer about all night long. Out of the 12 bouts, all but one features a Brazilian fighter. Three undercard fights feature Brazilian vs. Brazilian matchups as well. All told, 14 Brazilian fighters populate the card.
Among the fighters debuting in the UFC is Stanislav Nedkov, only the second Bulgarian ever to fight in the UFC. A compact, powerfully built fighter, Nedkov reportedly won several national wrestling championships in his home country, and he holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu. His striking is powerful, though a bit unrefined. His first task in the UFC won’t be an easy one, taking on the southpaw slugger Luiz Cane. Nedkov is a perfect 11-0 in his career, so it will be interesting to see how he stacks up against prime talent, especially considering the fact that he hasn’t fought in 15 months.
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
Can anyone top the big three of Silva, Jones, and GSP as the best pound-for-pounder fighter?