UFC 122 on Saturday, November 13, 2010 in Germany was headlined by a title contender fight between Nate “The Great” Marquardt versus Yushin “Thunder” Okami. With a 30 – 10 MMA record and numerous King of Pancrase honors to his credit, Marquardt is a very well – rounded fighter with exceptional stand up skills and a well versed ground game. With victories over experienced UFC competitors, including Demian Maia, Martin Kampmann and Jeremy Horn, “The Great” is a formidable Middleweight challenger and deserving of a title fight.

Conversely, in fighting styles, Yushin Oakami has a world class judo background and a tremendous ground game with excellent submissions. With limits in his stand up ability, Okami makes up for his lack of striking skills with a tight defense and limited holes in his fight game.

A clash of fighting styles should have made for a dynamic battle, especially considering the guaranteed title shot against the Middleweight champion that hung in the balance. Unfortunately, the disparity in the fighter’s games resulted in a lackluster performance by both Marquardt and Okami.

Fighting not to lose rather than pulling out all of the stops to win resulted in a boo filled split decision win for Yushin Okami. The tentative performances by both fighters brought tough criticism by UFC’s Dana White. “When we come and we put these guys on a headliner to go after the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, and the main event looks like that? It’s very disappointing,[i]” White said.

Dana then went on to berate Nate Marquardt by calling him a “choker” and slammed Greg Jackson and his camp for not relaying a sense of urgency to Marquardt during the fight. In the end, regardless of his lack of “Thunder,” Okami is still guaranteed a title shot against the winner of current middleweight champion, Anderson “The Spider” Silva versus the number one contender, Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort at UFC 126 on February 5, 2011.

Okami is currently ranked the sixth best Middleweight in the world by Sherdog.com.[ii] By 2006, Okami had amassed a record of 16–3 and was the third-ranked Pancrase Middleweight fighter. He signed with the UFC and made his debut in the organization on the undercard of UFC 62, defeating Alan Belcher by unanimous decision.

Following up his victory against Belcher, less than two months later with a bout against Kalib Starnes at UFC 64, Okami defeated Starnes by TKO due to strikes in the third round. After three victories in the UFC, Okami made his main card and broadcast debut at UFC 69 against Mike Swick, who was riding a five fight win streak in the UFC at the time. Okami won the bout by unanimous decision.

Yushin would then go on to fight former UFC Middleweight champion Rich Franklin and top Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen. Losing to both, “Thunder” has refocused his training and has improved his stand up skills to match his legendary judo abilities and ground game.

Yushin Okami’s attempt at the Middleweight championship will be against either Silva or Belfort sometime in 2011. Anderson Silva is 27 – 4 with 15 knockouts. At 6’2” 185 pounds, Anderson is the current UFC Middleweight champion. Silva fought Rich “Ace” Franklin at UFC 64 on October 14, 2006 and defeated him by TKO (strikes) at 2:59 in the first round. Anderson attacked Rich with knees to the body from the Muay Thai-clinch, then badly broke Franklin's nose with a bone crushing knee to the face.

Unable to strike back, Franklin dodged the last of Silva's strikes before falling to the ground, where referee "Big" John McCarthy ended the fight. Silva was then crowned the new UFC Middleweight champion.

With 13 consecutive wins, Silva holds the longest active winning streak in the UFC and the record for the longest winning streak in UFC history. Currently ranked as the number one Middleweight in the world by Sherdog.com,[iii] Silva is also the top pound-for-pound fighter amongst all promotions.

Since 2006, he has been the UFC Middleweight Champion, the last Cage Rage Middleweight Champion and former Shooto Middleweight Champion. Besides the UFC and Cage Rage, Silva has fought for a number of other MMA promotions including the Pride Fighting Championships, Shooto and Rumble on the Rock.

Silva’s title defense will be against Vitor Belfort on February 5, 2011 at UFC 126. “The Phenom” owns a 19 – 8 MMA record with 13 knockouts and is a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. Belfort was born in Rio de Janeiro and studied jiu-jitsu with the Gracie family, namely Carlson Gracie. He received a black belt under Carlson and currently trains with Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Belfort is ranked the number five middleweight in the world by Sherdog.com.[iv] Some of Vitor Belfort’s biggest victories include TKO stoppages of Tank Abbott and Wanderlei Silva, both while fighting for the UFC. Outside of the United States, “The Phenom” has posted victories against PRIDE’S Gilbert Yvel, Heath Herring and Bobby Southworth.

The main event between Silva and Belfort at UFC 126 will provide the fans with a matchup of the ages. Anderson is known for his stand up striking abilities and devastating knee strikes within the clinch. Favoring the knockout, Silva has made some of UFC’s most gifted strikers look amateur, including Dan Henderson, Chris Leben and Rich Franklin.

Varying his striking angles and his innate ability to avoid damage, “The Spider’s” talent is unmatched to date within the octagon. Recently criticized for his arrogance and questionable fighting tactics in his previous title defenses versus Chael Sonnen and Demian Maia, Anderson will need to be on top of his game to combat the explosively, quick hands of Vitor Belfort.

Justly named “The Phenom,” Vitor’s hand speed is legendary within MMA communities. Storming on to the UFC scene in UFC 12’s Heavyweight tournament, Belfort’s pinpoint striking demolished street legend Tank Abbott, making Belfort a household MMA name at the age of 19. Following his impressive arrival, Belfort would engage in three epic battles with current UFC hall of famer, Randy Couture.

Bouncing between various mixed martial arts promotions including PRIDE Fighting Championship, Cage Rage and Affliction, Vitor was re-signed to the UFC matching up against former Middleweight champion Rich Franklin at UFC 103 in September of 2009. Knocking out Franklin in just three minutes and two seconds into the first round. “The Phenom” had re-established himself as a valid threat against “The Spider’s” current undefeated reign as middleweight champion.

Regardless of the winner between Silva versus Belfort, either fighter will be an overwhelming matchup for Yushin Okami. Both Anderson and Vitor possess dominant stand up skills that will haunt Yushin. Tactical precision combined with knockout power and speed will thwart any of Okami’s improved stand up skills.

If Okami is successful in taking either fighter to the ground, both Silva and Belfort possess black belts in jiu-jitsu and are master practitioners off of their backs. With submission victories over jiu-jitsu black belt Travis Lutter and Greco – Roman wrestling sensation Chael Sonnen, Anderson has proven himself a worthy adversary on the mat. Likewise, Vitor Belfort’s jiu-jitsu skills enable him to take the fight back to his feet where he is most comfortable.

In the end, Yushin Okami’s fighting abilities will peril in comparison to the champion. Okami does not possess the striking talent necessary to stand up and exchange with either competitor. Additionally, Yushin’s ground game will not provide him any additional advantage over either black belt. When the blood is clotted and the bruises are iced, the current middleweight champion will not be tested by the number one competitor, Yushin Okami. The fight should provide for a one sided fireworks for the champion with the defeated Okami placed back into the pool of middleweight contenders.

Todd Seyler

November 15, 2010

[I] http://mmajunkie.com/news/21403/the-...14-edition.mma, November 15, 2010.

[ii] http://www.sherdog.com/news/articles...Rankings-27767, November 15, 2010.

[iii] http://www.sherdog.com/news/articles...Rankings-27767, November 15, 2010.

[iv] http://www.sherdog.com/news/articles...Rankings-27767, November 15, 2010.