Some time ago, as an MMA fan I expressed my disappointment of Yushin Okami being matched up with Mark Munoz for the upcoming UFC on Versus 2 card on August 1 in San Diego.
I felt that Munoz, who in his most recent fight at UFC 112 rallied from behind to secure a devastating TKO against Kendall Grove, was a step in the wrong direction for Okami, who I believed should have been fighting someone of higher prominence in a bid for title contention.
Then, a couple days ago, it dawned on me that this match-up could be of greater importance than I first perceived.
For Okami, a win over "The Philippine Wrecking Machine" would put him at 5 - 1 in his last six fights, with his only loss coming to current number one contender Chael Sonnen back at UFC 104. The Zuffa brass could favor his overall record in the company, an impressive 8-2, over the quality of his opponents (no disrespect to them) and fast-track him to a bout with the winner of "Silva vs. Sonnen."
For Munoz, a win over "Thunder" would speak volumes and likely propel him to the upper echelon of the middleweight division. Obviously, the reward that comes with a victory would be greater for Munoz, but should Okami emerge victorious, his only reward would be (hopefully) more than just a pat on the back from Joe Silva and Dana White.
However, despite the relevance of the fight for both athletes, It struck me that this fight is of most importance to one party.
First we must ask ourselves: "Who is fighting?"
If we take a step back, away from the micro-analysis of the fight and what it means to each fighter, we can answer that this is a match-up between a Japanese fighter and a Filipino-American fighter.
But why is this important?
Because of the UFC's plans to expand into Asia. Zuffa got the ball rolling back in March when the promotion secured a deal with ASN (Asia's HD Sports Channel) and took a major step forward when they hosted UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi.
Plans to open an office in China are expected to come to fruition later this week.
Furthermore, slowly but steadily, Zuffa has been snapping up prominent and/or emerging East-Asian fighters such as Takeya Mizugaki, 'Korean Zombie' Chan Jung Sung, Takanori Gomi and most recently, Korean middleweight Dong-Yi Yan.
The Okami vs. Munoz match-up will also help accomplish their expansion goals following the events of UFC 116, which may have stalled Zuffa's hopes of capturing a portion of the Japanese market.
By matching national fight celebrity Yoshihiro Akiyama with the extremely popular Wanderlei Silva, the UFC had hoped to attract more fans from the East-Asian region who continue to follow the exploits of both fighters.
However, Silva was sidelined with an injury and Akiyama ended up losing to his replacement, Chris Leben.
While the UFC richly rewarded Leben for accepting the fight on short notice, their attempts to preserve Akiyama (by giving him a fighter who fought two weeks previously) were unsuccessful, unraveling their plans of building a future mega-fight that would appeal to the Asian masses.
Fortunately, all is not lost.
With the Okami vs. Munoz fight, the UFC can still continue to progress in the Asian market if they decide to play the race card and promote the fight correctly. And until the UFC hosts an event in Eastern Asia, the most they can do to capture the regional audience is to build super-fights such as Akiyama vs. Silva or present more all-Asian fights.
This option is currently limited due to the small number of Asian fighters competing for Zuffa, but the likelihood of all-Asian matches will increase in the future as they continue to recruit more fighters and further expand into the global market.
Starting with Mark Munoz vs. Yushin Okami.
(FanPost edited and promoted by MMAmania.com)