Two middleweights going in completely different directions will meet this Saturday night (Feb. 25, 2012) at the Saitama Super Arena when recent title challenger Yushin Okami takes on Tim Boetsch on the main card of UFC 144 in Saitama, Japan.
Okami finally earned his long-awaited title shot last August, although he fell short in a big way against Anderson Silva. He's never lost two straight in his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) career and he's hoping to keep that tradition alive when he steps in against the very powerful Boetsch.
Boetsch is undefeated in the UFC ever since dropping down to middleweight. The burly brawler possesses some of the most powerful throws in the middleweight division and he's really starting to come into his own. He's hoping to become a key player in the division if he can slip past "Thunder."
Will Okami bring the heat in bouncing back from his recent championship defeat? Can "The Barbarian" enter hostile territory and conquer Okami on his home turf? How does each man win on Saturday night?
Find out inside:
Record: 26-6 overall, 10-3 in the UFC
Key Wins: Mark Munoz (UFC on Versus 2), Nate Marquardt (UFC 122), Alan Belcher (UFC 62)
Key Losses: Anderson Silva (UFC 134), Chael Sonnen (UFC 104), Rich Franklin (UFC 72)
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'll be hoping to get back on track by taking on the upstart Tim Boetsch this Saturday night in his native Japan.
How he gets it done: Okami has some crisp boxing and some terrific top control-based takedowns. I think the biggest advantage he has in this fight is his punching in the stand-up and his speed. While he wasn't able to get anything going in the striking department against Anderson Silva, Tim Boetsch is about as far away from Silva as you can get.
Expect Okami to have a huge speed disparity in this fight and if he can keep some constant movement going, whether it's changes in direction or constant circling, he can really work some angles and land nice punches in the stand-up at will.
While it's not where he has the biggest strength in this fight, I wouldn't be surprised to see Okami get inside and test himself against Boetsch's wrestling and judo skills. He'll be fighting in front of his home crowd and will likely want to showcase his entire offensive arsenal in this fight. If he can put Boetsch on his back, he has the skills to keep him there.
Primarily, though, I'd like to see Okami utilize his superior boxing and pepper away at Boetsch with with a large volume of sharp jabs and crosses.
Record: 14-4 overall, 5-3 in the UFC
Key Wins: Kendall Grove (UFC 130), Nick Ring (UFC 123), David Heath (UFC 81)
Key Losses: Phil Davis (UFC 123), Jason Brilz (UFC 96), Matt Hamill (UFC Fight Night 13)
How he got here: A natural athlete, Tim Boetsch tore through the local scene in New Jersey to start out his career before earning the opportunity of a lifetime when he stepped in on three days' notice to fight Vladimir Matyushenko at an IFL event East Rutherford. He would lose a decision to "The Janitory," but it proved that he could hang with the big boys.
Just five months later, "The Barbarian" was making his UFC debut against David Heath where he proceeded to lay a beatdown on the veteran, finishing him off with a series of knees and one of the most violent tosses you'll ever see, which won over a wide margin of MMA fans.
Perhaps thrown into the deep end too quickly, Boetsch would go 2-2 in his first UFC stint, losing to both Matt Hamill and Jason Brilz, but it would only take him one year away from the promotion where he stopped all three of his opponents to earn another invite.
He went 1-1 at light heavyweight, but was overpowered by Phil Davis, which convinced him to make the cut to 185 pounds. Since dropping down, Boetsch has won consecutive decisions over the likes of Kendall Grove and Nick Ring to go on the first UFC winning streak of his young career. The AMC Pankration fighter is going to find out exactly what he's made of this Saturday night when he takes on former title challenger Yushin Okami.
How he gets it done: Tim Boetsch is not the fastest fighter out there, but he might be one of the strongest middleweights in the UFC. To take advantage of that, he needs to close the distance and get inside against Okami.
If he can get inside, he possesses some powerful knees and his clinch is very dangerous, as we've seen him toss multiple people across the Octagon in his UFC career thus far. "The Barbarian" has some tricky judo attacks which can come from strange angles and catch his opponents off guard.
If he can't get inside immediately, don't be surprised to see Boetsch throw some nice push or front kicks as he can really snap his lead leg out there surprisingly quickly.
The most important thing for Boetsh is to get inside and try to dump Okami on his back. If he can do that and keep him there, he might be strong enough to take a decision victory, although it sure as hell won't be easy.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest factor for this fight has to be Okami's confidence. He finally got his title shot last August and he got completely destroyed by Anderson Silva in such a dominant way that he looked like he didn't belong in the same arena as the champion. That's got to do some serious damage to someone psychologically. If Okami is still shell-shocked from that loss, it could create a perfect opportunity for Boetsch to swoop in and pull off a tremendous upset. "Thunder" is a great fighter, but it's not easy to get back into the cage with the same level of confidence you once had after such a humbling defeat.
How he handles it will be a very telling sign in how this fight plays out.
Bottom Line: This fight could go in all sorts of directions. Okami has showcased some better overall boxing skills ever since transitioning over to Team Quest so he is slightly more exciting in the stand-up department, but he's never going to be the kind of fighter that most fans buy pay-per-views to see compete. Tim Boetsch is capable of random spurts of amazing, as evidenced by some of his finishes or his throws, but he's also been a much more cautious fighter since dropping down to 185 pounds and his fights haven't been the most exciting ever. I'd say it's about 50/50 that this fight ends up being entertaining and that's being generous.
Who will come out on top at UFC 144? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!