When Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) cut Yushin Okami last year following a loss to Ronaldo Souza at UFC Fight Night 28, many mixed martial arts (MMA) fans were left scratching their heads as to why the promotion chose to discard a perennial top-10 middleweight after just one loss.
After all, the longtime veteran came into the fight against Souza riding a three fight win streak. Even after the loss, Okami still boasted an impressive 13-4 overall record in UFC. One would think he'd be just the type of fighter a promotion looking to expand its reach into international markets would love to have on its roster.
Whatever the reasoning behind UFC's decision may be, it appears its loss is World Series of Fighting's (WSOF) gain.
This weekend Okami makes his WSOF debut against opponent Svetlozar Savov at WSOF 9, which takes place Sat., March 29 at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Paradise, Nevada, and airs at 9 p.m. ET on NBC Sports.
When asked what he wants to accomplish in his WSOF, Okami revealed he's already got his sights set on championship gold.
"This weekend I want to put on a fight I can be satisfied with," Okami told MMAmania.com (Note: This interview was conducted in Japanese and translated by the author). "I'm aiming for the WSOF belt. That's what I want to accomplish in WSOF."
To that end "Thunder," promises to put on an exciting fight against Savov at WSOF 9, the type that will leave little doubt his next bout should be for the inaugural WSOF middleweight belt.
Standing in his way though will be Savov, a 12-4 Bulgarian fighter with eight submission victories to his credit. Okami isn't taking him lightly, but he feels he clearly holds an advantage.
"Savov is a student of the game and he has an aggressive style," Okami observed. "He's very good when it comes to grappling and he's also physically strong, I think his only weakness might be a lack of experience. On the whole he doesn't have any real weaknesses, but I feel like my overall game is on a higher level than his."
Despite his past success, Okami says he is constantly refining his craft, both with long hours in the gym and through analyzing his past performances.
"I've studied my past fights, and tried to learn from them what I need to work on in order to make improvements to my overall game," Okami revealed. "I want to show fans how good I am in my next fight."
For part of his training in preparation for the bout against Savov, Oakmi hooked up with his former opponent turned close friend and training partner Chael Sonnen, who was in Brazil at the time serving as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter: "Brazil."
"I trained for this fight in Brazil with Chael and also in Japan at my dojo," Okami said. "I went to Brazil to be a coach on Chael's team. I was able to work out with the Brazilian fighters and with Chael. It was an extremely stimulating experience. I think it made me a better fighter heading into this weekend's fight."
Globe-hopping is nothing new for the Japanese native Okami. Throughout his fourteen year career he has fought in seven different countries and has made the long flight from Japan to the USA countless times. However, he'd relish the opportunity to fight for WSOF in Japan, when the promotion heads there later this year.
"Right now MMA isn't very popular in Japan," Okami admitted. "Hopefully WSOF coming there later this year can help MMA regain some popularity. But it's also up to each individual Japanese fighter, myself included, to give it our all when we fight in order to make MMA a big deal in Japan again."
Okami intends to do just that this weekend against Savov. If all goes according to plan, the longtime top-10 middleweight already has his sights set on what he wants next.
"I want to win this fight in impressive fashion, and fight next at WSOF Japan," Okami said. "I want to fight for the belt in Japan."