Two extremely potent middleweight contenders will clash this Saturday night (March 2, 2013) as former title challenger Yushin Okami takes on former Bellator Middleweight Champion Hector Lombard on the UFC on FUEL TV 8 main card in Saitama, Japan.
After a disheartening title fight defeat and an even more frustrating loss to Tim Boetsch, Yushin Okami has come back strong, winning two straight including knocking off top contender Alan Belcher for the second time in his last fight on the UFC 155 main card. He'll be looking to put down his second straight contender in Saitama.
Hector Lombard returned to form after a horrific UFC debut, straight up trashing leg lock specialist Rousimar Palhares via first round knockout despite the fact that his opponents was juicing. "Lightning" will be looking to enter the mix of top potential middleweight title challengers if he can put down Okami, who's always at or near the top of the division.
Will this battle of "Thunder" and "Lightning" provide some serious fireworks? Can Okami play spoiler for yet another top middleweight contender? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 28-7 overall, 12-4 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 UFC, where he defeated Alan Belcher via unanimous decision in his promotional 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 continued that pattern in a rematch against Belcher, grinding out a decision with his superior wrestling and overall ground skills to earn a decision. Now, he'll be trying to put away another top player in the division in Lombard. . .
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 an extremely dangerous striker like Lombard.
Okami's wrestling won him his last two fights and it's been something he's been able to rely on his entire career. Closing the distance and securing takedowns in the clinch won't be easy because of Lombard's potent judo background, but that is the Japanese grinder's bread and butter.
Even if Okami can't take Lombard down right away, he has to at least close the distance and make the former Bellator champ work extremely hard in the opening round because that's when he's most dangerous. If he can take a bit of pep out of Lombard's step, those heavy muscles on Lombard's small frame are going to get tired and the takedowns will be easier to come by.
If and when he can put Lombard on his back, Okami should be active enough to keep the fight on the canvas but there's no need to take major risks and potentially provide an opening for the ATT fighter to get back to his feet. If he can wear Lombard down and put him on the ground, he'll be well on his way to victory.
Record: 32-3-1 (1 no contest) overall, 1-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Hector Lombard was a former Olympic judo competitor for Cuba but defected and began training and competing in mixed martial arts. He lost some tough fights against elite competition during a stint in Pride in the early part of his career, but then he really settled in and found a home away from home in Australia, where he took on all the best Australian fighters, beating them from pillar to post.
Eventually, "Shango" caught the attention of an upstart company named Bellator Fighting Championship and the rest is history. Lombard would win three fights in three months to be crowned the inaugural Bellator middleweight champion and would be fed a constant stream of non-title opponents which he put down easily. Perhaps his most memorable Bellator moment was his six second knockout of UFC veteran Jay Silva.
He eventually defended his title in a lackluster affair against Alexander Shlemenko before a few non-title bouts finished his run with the promotion. When his contract expired, he waited until the exclusive Bellator negotiating period ended and signed with the UFC.
His much-hyped debut with the promotion against Tim Boetsch did not go as expected, losing a decision in an extremely uninspired performance Lombard would later blame on an injury. He redeemed himself against Rousimar Palhares in his last fight, showing a spark of the killer Lombard that fans were hoping would tear a path of destruction through the UFC middleweight division and he's hoping to bring that same mentality to the Octagon against Okami on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Lombard is capable of being an animal. He comes out of the gate firing on all cylinders and going for the kill. His favorite technique is simply to put his head down and start blasting his opponents with big hooks, hoping to put their lights out in the first minute of the fight.
If that doesn't work, Lombard has no problem sitting back and waiting for an opening. He's still just as capable of scoring a second or third round knockout as evidenced by his brutal stoppages against Trevor Prangley and Falaniko Vitale in Bellator.
The key to this fight is how well Lombard defends himself in the clinch. Yushin Okami loves to close the distance and either drag his opponents to the canvas, trip them or turn the corner along the fence to secure takedowns. If Lombard can fend those attempts off and pop "Thunder" with some crisp short attacks, he'll be in a very good position to finish the fight.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be Yushin Okami's rapidly deteriorating chin. He's now fought four times in a row where he's been rocked by punches on the feet. He was dropped twice and finished against Silva, brutally knocked out by Tim Boetsch, wobbled multiple times by Buddy Roberts and hurt badly by Alan Belcher. That is not a good thing, especially because in the latter two fights, he primarily used his wrestling to dominate, yet he still got hurt badly on the feet.
Okami was developing a pretty good stand-up game but it seems like he's completely lost confidence in himself there and not being confident in your striking is a horrible position to be in when you're going in there against one of the most fearsome and powerful strikers in the middleweight division like Lombard. If he can't get the fight to the ground in a hurry and he gets rocked by the Cuban expatriate, there's no way Lombard will let him off the hook. That man's finishing instincts are insane.
Bottom Line: The excitement level for this fight will all hinge on whether or not Hector Lombard can shut down Yushin Okami's takedowns. If he can, he'll put himself in a position to finish the fight in devastating fashion and that's always something to look forward to. If Okami can take him down and grind out a three round decision, that may excite the hometown Japanese crowd, but people watching on television will likely be taking a bathroom break. Unfortunately, how fun this fight will be depends on whether or not Lombard can crush Okami.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV 8? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!