UFC Rio will culminate in a clash for the Middleweight Title, as defending Champion Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva (30-4) looks to extend his incredible win streak, and avenge his last official defeat to seasoned Japanese powerhouse, Yushin ‘Thunder’ Okami (26-5).
That loss came six years ago at the ‘Rumble on the Rock’ promotion, Hawaii, and in no less than dubious circumstances. After Okami secured the takedown, Silva connected with an illegal up-kick to Okami’s head from the guard position, and so was therefore disqualified. Both fighters have stated their frustration with the way that contest ended, with Silva claiming the rules were not clear to him, and Okami regarding it to be a hollow victory.
Following that loss Silva has blazed a trail of destruction, from UK promotion Cage Rage (against Tony Frykland), to his debut in the UFC, dismissing Chris Leben with such wanton ease that he was granted an immediate title fight with then Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin. He wasted no time in confirming his status as one of the best in the world, dismantling the popular ‘Ace’ in spectacular fashion, before repeating that dominance in the rematch at UFC 77. Most recently he faced Vitor Belfort, and promptly knocked out the former UFC Light heavyweight Champion, and Heavyweight tournament winner, with a Steven Seagal inspired front kick to the face. He has remained atop of the division for a record breaking period of time, winning all eight of his title defenses, and all 13 of his fights in the promotion, prompting UFC President Dana White to proclaim him to be ‘The best fighter ever, in Mixed Martial Arts.’
It seemed as though the UFC had been reluctant to grant Okami another title shot, ever since he pulled out of the scheduled contest at UFC 90 after breaking his hand in training, but few could argue the Japanese standout doesn’t deserves another chance, after winning six of his last seven fights to claw his way back into title contention. He has improved with each contest and has built up an impressive array of victories against some of the toughest guys in the division, including Alan Belcher, Mark Munoz and most recently former middleweight title challenger Nate Marquardt, to solidify his position as the number one contender. That sole loss in seven came to the man who himself came so near to toppling the Champion, Chael Sonnen, and has led to an unlikely friendship with the brash former real estate agent, who he now spends much of his time training with out of Team Quest facility in Portland, Oregon.
Though Silva can be sublime to watch, he can also resemble the ridiculous, as he began to show in match-ups with Patrick Cote and Thales Leites, culminating in the farcical performance against Demian Maia, while headlining the UFC’s inaugural event in Abu Dhabi. It is also clear he is vulnerable when faced with strong wrestlers like Sonnen and Dan Henderson, but what sets the Champion apart from his contemporaries is his ability to remain fluid and relaxed within the ensuing carnage of battle. Granted his rhythm, timing, and technique are phenomenal, but that all stems from his heightened awareness of self and opponent, elevating him from mere fighter to true artist. If the Champion successfully defends his belt for a record ninth time, the calls for him to fight fellow ‘pound for pound’ great George Saint Pierre (faces Nick Diaz in October) or return to light heavyweight to challenge for the title there, will be almost as deafening as the Rio crowd.
‘Thunder’ must look to strike early and trap ‘The Spider’ onto the fence, where he can use his tremendous strength to weigh on the wiry Champion, and secure the takedown. If Okami can change levels well enough, and successfully avoid Silva’s devastating clinch game, he could ground and pound his way toward an unlikely victory.
If the Silva who shows up is the version who defeated Messer’s Franklin, Griffin and Belfort, it could be a very bad night for the man from Yokohama, Japan. Silva should remain in constant motion throughout and dictate the pace and distance from the outset, using his incredible striking arsenal, whilst being mindful of Okami’s wrestling and underrated boxing.
Where Okami is solid, Silva is spectacular. I expect the Champion to weather Okami’s early storm, and deliver the knockout the home fans crave, somewhere in the region of Round Three.
Tags: anderson silva, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC 134, Yushin Okami