At UFC RIO on August 27th, history could be made as Yushin Okami faces longtime middleweight king Anderson Silva in an opportunity to become the first Japanese champion in UFC history. Is “Thunder” ready for his night in the spotlight? The history you’ll read below shows that he is.
Anderson Silva WDQ1 – Rumble on The Rock 8 – 1/20/06
13-2 as a pro, with his only losses coming against respected vets Amar Suloev and Falaniko Vitale, Okami made his second US appearance against a pre-prime Anderson Silva in Hawaii. Silva had made some noise on the international scene with five PRIDE appearances, but his 3-2 record in the organization didn’t exactly show off ‘The Spider’ who has been dominating the UFC since June of ’06. On this night in Honolulu, the Brazilian did look to be on top of his game, as he dominated the standup and tossed aside any Okami takedown attempts. Eventually, Okami got Silva to the mat, but just when it looked like the bout was going to get interesting in terms of ‘Thunder’ getting back in the fight, Silva finished the bout with an up kick. Unfortunately for him, it was an illegal move, and he was disqualified by referee (and future UFC fighter) Troy Mandaloniz. On paper, it’s Silva’s last loss, but Okami doesn’t see it as such. “The records say I won but I really lost the match,” he said. “But I believe because of this fight I've grown stronger. The next time I fight him things will be different. I am confident of that.”
Alan Belcher W3 – UFC 62 – 8/26/06
Three months after the win over Silva, Okami returned to Hawaii and lost a majority decision to Jake Shields. It would be his last defeat for over a year, and after two TKO wins in Japan, he made his low-key UFC debut against fellow debutant Alan Belcher, a late replacement for former middleweight title challenger David Terrell. The bout was punctuated by what can be best described as a bizarre front flip by Belcher while Okami rode his back in the third round, but other than that bright moment, it was all Okami, who pounded out a workmanlike three round unanimous decision and announced his arrival to the UFC.
Mike Swick W3 – UFC 69 – 4/7/07
With a 5-0 UFC record, The Ultimate Fighter’s Mike Swick was rapidly closing in on a middleweight title shot, and in front of his Texas fans at UFC 69, most expected him to move to 6-0. But Okami was poised and ready to perform, and he did just that, as he dominated Swick on the mat and grounded and pounded his way to a clear cut three round decision win. It was the fourth consecutive time (following Belcher, Kalib Starnes, and Rory Singer) that the Kanagawa native issued an opponent his first Octagon defeat.
Rich Franklin L3 – UFC 72 – 6/16/07
After Martin Kampmann was forced out of his UFC 72 main event against Rich Franklin, the next logical choice to face the former 185-pound champ for a shot at Anderson Silva’s crown was Okami, who brought a four fight UFC winning streak into the bout. Unfortunately for Okami, his patient style cost him, as Franklin shot out to a 2-0 lead on the judges’ cards. In the third though, Okami showed that he was ready for the best in the weight class, as he closed strong behind a ground attack that included a kimura that almost ended the bout. “It was pretty close; he had me a little nervous but I was able to pull out of it,” said Franklin, who earned the three round unanimous decision win and sent Okami back to the drawing board.
Evan Tanner KO2 – UFC 82 – 3/1/08
Four months after the loss to Franklin, Okami returned with a three round win over Jason MacDonald, yet despite a stellar 5-1 record in the Octagon, fight fans were looking for more thunder from “Thunder”, whose only UFC stoppage came against Starnes at UFC 64. Okami’s response? An emphatic second round knockout of comebacking former 185-pound champion Evan Tanner at UFC 82. It was Okami’s most impressive UFC performance to date, as he dropped and bloodied Tanner in the first round and then finished him with a knee to the head in the second frame. After the fight, the soft-spoken Okami was classy as usual when asked about a rematch with Silva. "It’s up to the UFC," he said. "If they feel I am ready for a title shot, I’d be honored. If they want me to take on another tough opponent before getting a shot at the belt, then that’s what I’ll do."
Lucio Linhares TKO2 – UFC Fight Night – 3/31/10
Following the Tanner fight, Okami split his next two, beating Dean Lister and losing to Chael Sonnen. After the Sonnen fight, Okami knew that to break into title contention, he not only had to put together a win streak, but he had to do so in impressive style. In March of 2010, he got his first opportunity and he made an example of Brazil’s Lucio Linhares, punishing him with some of his best standup work to date en route to a second round stoppage. The victory sent a statement to the rest of the division that just when you thought all you had to worry about was Okami’s ground game, now he could knock you out standing too.
Nate Marquardt W3 – UFC 122 – 11/13/10
Okami carried the momentum of the Linhares fight into an August 2010 bout against Mark Munoz, which he won via split decision. But the biggest fight was in front of him, a UFC 122 main event against Nate Marquardt. The winner would challenge Silva for his world title, and with all the pressure on his shoulders, Okami bit down on his mouthpiece and put in the work necessary to decision Marquardt and become only the fifth Japanese fighter (after Yuki Kondo, Caol Uno, Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, and Kenichi Yamamoto) to challenge for a UFC crown. And if he wins on August 27th, he will be the first representative from his nation to become a UFC champ. Sure, that’s even more pressure for Okami to deal with, but as he’s proven, he can deliver when the heat is on.