Photos by Ron Chenoy and Joe Camporeale via USA Today
Two top middleweights will battle each other for the second time this Saturday night (Dec. 29, 2012) as Alan Belcher takes on Yushin Okami on the UFC 155 main card in Las Vegas, Nevada. Okami got the better of Belcher back at UFC 62 when both men were making their respective UFC debuts. What's the key for each fighter to get a big win this second time around? Find out below.
Record: 18-6 overall, 9-4 in the UFC
How he got here: Still just 28 years old, Alan Belcher has been competing in mixed martial arts since 2004. After getting off to a slow 2-2 start to his career, "The Talent" went on a seven fight win streak to earn a berth in the UFC.
He had a rude awakening in the promotion, getting thrown in against top middleweight Yushin Okami in his debut, getting physically dominated en route to a unanimous decision loss. Belcher would bounce back with a quick knockout of Jorge Santiago but Kendall Grove sent him back down to Earth with a D'Aarce choke.
Belcher really began to work on improving his ground game after the loss to Grove and it showed with a guillotine choke of Sean Salmon at UFC 71. After suffering a huge upset to Jason Day in a fight where he was completely controlled by Day's tricky rubber guard and eventually overwhelmed, Belcher began an impressive streak of top level performances.
It began with a close split decision over Ed Herman and continued with a fantastic guillotine choke victory over Denis Kang which would earn him "Submission of the Night" honors. "The Talent" would earn "Fight of the Night" at the infamous UFC 100 show, losing a razor thin split decision to Yoshihiro Akiyama in a fight that many felt he won.
He got back on track with consecutive finishes against WIlson Gouveia and Patrick Cote, again earning two more fight night bonuses to run his streak to four straight and even called out Anderson Silva afterwards.
He was instead booked to fight Demian Maia but the bout would never take place as Belcher lost vision in his right eye. He had to have surgery and many felt he would never fight again. After 17 months away from the cage, he returned to stop Jason MacDonald via strikes.
Belcher followed up his strong showing by smashing Rousimar Palhares, avoiding the Brazilian's leg locks and blasting him with heavy punches until the fight was stopped. Now, he'll be getting a chance to redeem himself against Okami, the man who handed him his first UFC defeat.
How he gets it done: Belcher's go-to skills have always been his striking. He entered the UFC as a Muay Thai specialist and has been able to add other facets to his overall game since teaming up with famed MMA coach Duke Roufus over in Milwaukee.
Belcher has some very powerful punches and he's very strong in the clinch but he would be wise to avoid allowing Okami to get close enough to even think about taking him down . "The Talent" will have a slight reach advantage against Okami so look for him to pick "Thunder" apart with his punches, particularly since Okami isn't nearly as aggressive with his striking after some scares in his recent bouts.
I know that Belcher has put a lot of time into his ground skills, even knocking out MacDonald and Palhares with ground and pound in his last two fights, but he would be wise to avoid going to the ground with Okami and risk being put on his back.
Belcher has terrific kicks but he'll have to be a little cautious throwing them as he likely doesn't want to have one caught and be taken down. This is a fight where his boxing and ability to keep the match standing should be the deciding factor. He'll need to snap his leg back quickly if he's going to throw it and he can't telegraph it.
Record: 27-7 overall, 11-4 in the UFC
How he got here: With a strong history in wrestling, Yushin Okami began his career competing primarily in Japan, where he made appearances with the Pride, Pancrase and GCM promotions. His most notable early career appearance was during the infamous Rumble on the Rock event where he was struck by Anderson Silva with an illegal blow to win via disqualification.
He would lose in the next round to Jake Shields, but undeterred, he won his next two fights which earned him an invite to the UFC, where he defeated Alan Belcher via unanimous decision in his promotion debut.
While in the UFC, Okami was always doing just enough to be in the talks for title contention, but never quite getting over the top of the hill and get his shot. He didn't exactly have the most fan-friendly fighting style with his wrestling, top control and more pressure-based striking attack in the stand-up.
At UFC 72, he had a four fight promotional win streak snapped by Rich Franklin which would have given him a title shot. After another three fight winning streak, he would be derailed once more by Chael Sonnen at UFC 104. The Japanese grinder would move to Team Quest after the Sonnen defeat and put together another solid three fight winning streak, this time knocking off top middleweights Mark Munoz and Nate Marquardt to finally capture his title shot.
Unfortunately, the rematch with Anderson Silva did not go very well as Okami was humiliated by "The Spider" via second round technical knockout in a bout he was not competitive in whatsoever. He was hoping to get back on track against Tim Boetsch his native Japan but was stunned in the third round and finished after dominating most of the fight.
He picked up the pieces against Buddy Roberts, going back to what brought him here with a dominant ground display and he'll be right back in the mix if he can halt Belcher's streak. .
How he gets it done: Okami has some crisp boxing and some terrific clinch-based takedowns. While his stand-up has improved by leaps and bounds since his debut with the promotion, it would be wise to avoid standing against a powerful striker like Belcher.
Okami's wrestling won him the fight the last time he took on Belcher and it will absolutely be the deciding factor in this bout. He'll need to take away Belcher's weapons by closing the distance in the clinch or dumping "The Talent" on the canvas where he's least comfortable, off his back.
If he can put Belcher on the ground, Okami needs to go to work with ground and pound and do as much damage from a superior position as possible. Belcher is probably too tough to finish, but the more dominant ground display he can put on, the better.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight could be Yushin Okami's hesitancy in the stand-up. He was really starting to become a seasoned striker in the middleweight division but after getting embarrassed by Anderson Silva and blitzed by Tim Boetsch, he lost his edge. He even got rocked a couple times by Buddy Roberts on the feet in his last fight.
It's going to be much more difficult for Okami to take Belcher down and wear him out if he can't make "The Talent" respect his stand-up, instead telegraphing takedown attempts. This is a completely different Alan Belcher than the man that Okami completely dominated with his grappling back in 2006. It's not going to be nearly as easy especially if he can't force the former kickboxer to drop his guard a bit.
Bottom Line: If Belcher can force this fight to remain standing, this fight has all the potential in the world. Belcher has already said he's looking to score an emphatic knockout to not only get the loss back but to also work himself into the title picture. On the ground, Okami has looked strong in his last two fights, advancing position, dropping repeated punches and doing some damage but he won't have as easy of a go with it this time around against Belcher. If Okami is able to put him on his back, he might be forced to win the fight with top position alone instead of making the bout more interesting with activity.
Who will come out on top at UFC 155? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!
Which middleweight will win a long-awaited rematch on the UFC 155 main card this Saturday night?
Alan Belcher (150 votes)
Yushin Okami (53 votes)
203 total votes