Yushin Okami: Sherdog.com
With UFC 122 done and UFC 123 approaching next week, let’s take a look at four stories that emerged from Saturday night’s card in Germany.
The Title Eliminator That Wasn’t?
Congratulations to Yushin Okami, who took a close decision win over Nate Marquardt to get a title shot at 185 pounds; theoretically against the winner of the Feb. 5 Anderson Silva-Vitor Belfort showdown at UFC 126. But did he gain any marketability toward a rematch with Silva? (Assuming Anderson wins against Belfort, which is no lock, except for the fact that Silva is the most durable fighter in the sport and Belfort has had a notoriously suspect gas tank).
A good streak of wins to deserve a shot? Check. He’s 10-2 in the organization, dropping decisions to tough competition in Rich Franklin and Chael Sonnen.
Is there a semblance of a plotline? Check. Okami won via DQ when Silva delivered an illegal upkick in their first showdown at Rumble on the Rock in 2006.
Unfortunately, Okami is in the same territory Jon Fitch is in at welterweight; he’s good enough to be an odds-on favorite against anyone in the division, except the champ, who is a complete stylistic antidote to him. Franklin used to live in this neighborhood too, but was willing to shuttle between 185 and 205 as a sort of policeman, taking on whomever made promotional sense after his two one-sided losses to Silva.
Ironically, Okami’s style matches up a lot better with Belfort, but if Belfort actually beats Silva, a Silva-Belfort rematch makes more sense than Belfort-Okami.
A Night of Lightweights
I’ve wanted to do this for years -- and I’ll put it out there now -- with the UFC’s absorption of WEC official: let’s just do a full card of 155 pounders to celebrate the awesomeness of lightweights. While they currently have fights lined up in various upcoming cards, let’s put the matchmaker hat on and just make a card of kickass fights. Clay Guida-Donald Cerrone, Kamal Shalorus-Sean Sherk, Sam Stout-Danny Castillo, whatever. You could mix and match and not make a single bad fight of these or most of the other fighters that are now in the UFC’s deepest division.
It’d be a nice way to highlight the talent in the smaller weight classes. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a little guy gas out in the second round? It’s almost expectable with heavyweights, and with the 145 and 135 divisions coming, fans would respond to this kind of card.
Karlos Vemola vs. Krzysztof Soszynski
One fight I overlooked in yesterday’s “Matches we’d like to see” was including this one. Karlos Vemola was very impressive in dispatching veteran Seth Petruzelli, and European talent is going to play a huge role in making UFC and MMA, by extension, bigger than ever worldwide (see below).
I like Vemola’s aggression, especially the fact that he took it straight to Petruzelli and is fond of prefight intimidation (check his vids online -- he loves to mad-dog the other guy, chest to chest, after entering the cage). Krzysztof Soszynski has ploughed along in the UFC and consistently improved, using a blue-collar approach to get better with each fight and learn from his defeats. I’d like to see these two go at it. Someone would definitely bleed.
Foreign-born talent plays an increasingly bigger role
Last night was like MMA’s version of the United Colors of Benetton advertisements from the 90s -- eight of the 10 winners were non-Americans, with 14 of 20 from other countries. Building talent and the infrastructure is a meticulous process, and what the game has done via Michael Bisping in the U.K. is a template that works.
If you watch foreign fighters, they definitely have some catching up to do, especially in terms of basic wrestling and takedown prowess, but the gap is closing, literally with each month. They’re also more likely to come from strong kickboxing or other vital background, besides what used to be the default for a non-American talent, which 10 years ago was almost always someone from Brazil or Japan. This adds a nice wrinkle, both marketing-wise and stylistically, and when you see someone like Dennis Siver, the German lightweight with wicked standup, who can sink fight-ending submissions, the talent pool is definitely improving.