On Saturday night, middleweight contender Yushin Okami will fight in a title eliminator match for the second time in his UFC career.
In the main event of UFC 122, Okami faces former title challenger and fellow top contender Nate Marquardt. The winner has already been guaranteed a shot at the winner of champion Anderson Silva's title defense against Vitor Belfort, taking place February 5.
In Okami's first run at the title, he put together four solid wins—most notably unanimous decision wins over Alan Belcher and Mike Swick—with no losses before being offered Rich Franklin to determine the No. 1 contender at UFC 72.
Okami went on to lose a lackluster decision to Franklin, and Franklin was awarded with a second brutal beatdown at the hands of Silva. Since that fight, Okami has put together a 5-1 record in the UFC and is now back in a familiar spot.
Like UFC 72, UFC 112 will see Okami headline a very subpar European event that nobody is particularly excited for. Put it this way, the event being shown free on Spike TV with a tape delay is the best thing the show has going for it.
Okami isn't a particularly exciting fighter, and the rest of the card seems filled with fighters who are one loss from being cut from the company. Don't get me wrong, I'm not turning down any UFC event being shown on free TV, but the UFC has set such a high standard for itself that it is easy to be disappointed by this lineup.
Nonetheless, what the event lacks in anticipated matchups it makes up for with a meaningful main event. The winner will have a chance to be the middleweight champion of the world. There is no bigger accomplishment in the sport.
But does a mostly unfamiliar name like Yushin Okami deserve to be getting this opportunity? The insiders would certainly say yes, but what has he done compared to some of the recent title challengers?
Well, for starters, Anderson Silva got a shot at the title after just one fight in the UFC, an early knockout of Chris Leben. Surely Okami's 9-2 UFC record is more deserving than that.
And let's not forget that Demian Maia was given a shot at the title just one win removed from a 21-second knockout loss to Nate Marquardt. Or that the current top contender Vitor Belfort has yet to even fight in the UFC middleweight division.
Still, Okami was routed by Chael Sonnen via unanimous decision only three fights ago. He has since looked impressive over Lucio Linhares and Mark Munoz, and apparently has learned from the loss, even switching to Sonnen's camp to learn some new tricks. But should a fighter get a shot after just a three-fight win streak?
My answer is, in this case, yes. If Okami can win Saturday night against Marquardt, he will have an overall UFC record of 10-2, capped off by a win over one of the best middleweights of this era in Marquardt.
Winning for either fighter this weekend will not be easy, and whoever comes out on top will be quite deserving of a big opportunity at what every fighter dreams about: a shot to be the best.
To this moment, the highest point of Okami's UFC career was headlining a low-level European card in a title eliminator match. This weekend he will have a chance to either surpass that spot or recognize it as his summit.