One guy I haven’t written a whole lot about is Chael Sonnen. Despite being a fighter with a very middling record as far as UFC middleweights go, Sonnen has managed to capture the imagination of the MMA community, largely by putting on this act, with which he’s very good at making outrageous statements with a straight face. I’ll admit to being amused by Sonnen quite a bit of the time, and I do think there are sometimes elements of truth in what he says, but there are also times where I feel that the attention Sonnen gets is far, far overblown.
Take, for instance, the main event of UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro. Anderson Silva, the longest-reigning champion in UFC history, and arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time, is going to be taking on Yushin Okami for the title. It’s a compelling match with a back story, as Okami is the last fighter to technically defeat Silva, although the finish was by disqualification. And while Silva is a very strong betting favorite as always, there’s at least an argument to be made that Okami has the right skill set (wrestling and submission defense) to pull off the upset.
And yet, it seems that half of the coverage surrounding this fight is about Chael Sonnen. In fact, seemingly half of the coverage of the whole event is about Sonnen. Look, I’m all for a fighter with some personality, but I don’t need to endlessly hear questions about whether or not Sonnen will be there in Rio de Janeiro to be in Yushin Okami’s corner. Sonnen puts on a very entertaining act, but it is an act, and quite frankly, this is a fight that’s interesting enough without all of the attention being given to somebody who isn’t even competing.
Now, I need to point out that I have, in the past, mentioned the possibility that Okami beats Silva, based on fighting age. Silva is in his 12th (consecutive) year of fighting, well beyond the 9-year mark at which MMA fighters have a tendency to decline. And while Silva has kept on winning, signs of decline have taken place in my opinion. The most obvious by far was Silva’s beating at the hands of Sonnen in the main event of UFC 117. When a fighter is overwhelmed as badly as Silva was, that’s a sign of a competitor who is losing it, even if Silva did wind up winning by (miraculous) submission.
Then there are Silva’s non-performances against Demian Maia and Thales Leites. I’m sure that some would object to calling those fights a sign of decline, but when you’re talking about a man who is called the greatest MMA fighter of all time, and #1 pound for pound, those fights are a decline. Of course, Silva did make Forrest Griffin look completely silly, and most recently defeated Vitor Belfort by sudden front kick to the face, so this is still Anderson Silva we’re talking about, and he’ll still be the favorite to win until proven otherwise.
But again, there is the idea that Yushin Okami could have the right skill set to win. Okami is a very strong wrestler with solid boxing. Anybody who mostly shuts down Mark Munoz has some serious talent and strength. And on top of the wrestling and boxing, Okami has good submission defense as well, unlike Chael Sonnen. The line of thinking is that perhaps Okami doesn’t do nearly the kind of damage that Sonnen did, but maybe he finds a way to win rounds with wrestling while avoiding Silva’s submissions.
Here’s the problem: Okami is extremely unlikely to win by KO/TKO. Okami has done it before, but it’s incredibly hard to envision that taking place against Silva. And while I’m sure Okami is well-versed in submissions, he doesn’t have an extensive history of winning that way. If Okami does upset Anderson Silva, there’s a very high probability that it’s because he won a decision, especially because Okami will almost certainly need to use his wrestling, as opposed to his hands, to win.
Meanwhile, Silva has all sorts of ways to win. These include precision boxing (Forrest Griffin), ninja kicks (Vitor Belfort), a barrage of vicious knees (Rich Franklin), submission from bottom position (Travis Lutter, Chael Sonnen), and boss-agitating humiliation (Thales Leites, Demian Maia).
SILVA PREDICTION: ANDERSON SILVA (47.05) OVER YUSHIN OKAMI (31.48)
In the end, Yushin Okami is not Chael Sonnen. It’s too simple to say that Okami could do what Sonnen did, and not get caught in a submission hold. Okami’s wrestling is different (and not as good), his striking is different… he’s just a different fighter, and that means that this will be a different fight. There’s absolutely the possibility that Okami manages to win a decision, based on takedowns, top control, and submission defense. But when Anderson Silva fights, there are all sorts of possibilities. I do think that Silva will eventually lose; these fights are becoming more and more difficult for him to win, and his fighting age and real-life age are just continuing to rise. But I don’t think that Yushin Okami is the man for the job.