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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 117’s Yushin Okami

Esther Lin

Long-time veteran, Yushin Okami, returns to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on short-notice to face off with athletic finisher, Ovince Saint Preux, in a 205-pound bout this Friday (Sept. 22, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 117 inside Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

Every year, UFC throws me a few curve balls in terms of main event fighters. This year, the top contender for the, “Why am I writing in-depth about this guy?” award was Artem Lobov; however, 2017 Okami has stormed through the ranks at the last minute to capture the crown.

Of course, this was never UFC’s plan. Another knee injury disrupted Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s scheduled bout with Saint Preux, and there aren’t that many fighters with the experience and size necessary to face “OSP” who can fight in Japan on such short-notice.

Let’s take a closer look at the former title challenger’s skill set:

Striking

Okami is a very meat-and-potatoes striker. For the most part, his strikes serve the purpose of setting up his takedown or clinch attempts. Nevertheless, Okami is comfortable striking both on the offensive and from the outside.

That said, Okami does prefer to pressure. At his best, he’s applying steady, smothering pressure behind a stiff jab. Despite his Southpaw stance, Okami relies on the jab consistently, hand-fighting with his opponent until the opportunity to slap the hand down and stab with a jab presents itself (GIF).

For the most part, Okami reads his opponent’s range quite well, knowing when he is and is not in danger of being hit. This ties into strike selection as well, as Okami rarely misses badly. If he cannot land punches, Okami will kick at the leg or seek to line up a powerful left kick to the mid-section. Once in range, Okami sticks to his straight jab and long cross, only trading long enough to close range (GIF). It’s nothing all that dramatic, but both strikes certainly pack a punch and force his opponent’s respect (GIF).

One of the more interesting habits in Okami’s stand up game is to step into knees. Once he’s found the range and established his left kick, Okami will look to step into a knee to the body instead. Against a fellow Southpaw in Hector Lombard, Okami found success with the switch knee up the middle as well.

Okami finds much of his success in the clinch, and that’s true for doing damage as well. The Japanese athlete is better than most at securing a body lock and still landing effective knees. Plus, if he’s able to transition into a double-collar tie, it’s a potential fight finisher (GIF).

Wrestling

The base of Okami’s game has always been takedowns and top control. The Judo black belt was an imposing figure at 185 lbs. for a long time, using his size and strength control his opponents with ease. He’s found similar success with this strategy at Welterweight, though it’s tough to imagine Okami muscling “OSP” around.

Okami’s single leg is perhaps his most important weapon. Not just because it’s a common way for him to force his opponent to the mat — Okami steps back and dumps well, occasionally allowing one of his arms to reach up and push the head during the dump — but also because it serves as a transitional position for him. When put on his back, Okami instinctively grabs for the single leg, using it to come up into a takedown and reverse position.

Similarly, Okami uses the single leg to briefly pull his opponent from the fence. This creates the space necessary to move into the upper body clinch, where Okami hunts for trips and throws. Once his opponent is trapped in this series of transitions between the single and clinch, it’s hard to escape Okami’s grasp.

Okami uses the jab very well to set up his takedowns, which is the focus of his technique highlight.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Much like the rest of his game, Okami’s jiu-jitsu tends to fall more in the realm of effective than flashy. He’s very much a position before submission fighter, but Okami is especially effective at crushing and smothering his foes.

From top position, Okami is all about shoulder pressure. Once “Thunder” makes his way to half guard, he secures the far side underhook and drops his shoulder into his opponent’s jaw. This pushes his opponent’s face away from him, makes it difficult to breathe, opens passing opportunities, and gives Okami the option to release pressure and land an elbow at any point.

After a minute or two of Okami’s pressure, he’s often able to slide into mount. Once in a dominant position, Okami continues weighing on his opponent and transitioning through to back mount or side control. Either way, Okami keeps working to break his opponent down and force him to give up a rear naked or arm triangle choke.

Conclusion

After being unjustifiably released back in 2013, it’s been a strange journey for Okami. His bid to capture the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) Middleweight title proved unsuccessful, which prompted the completely unexpected drop to 170 pounds. Okami is 4-1 at his new weight class but will abandon it here, as this bout with “OSP” is the ticket required for “Thunder” to return to the Octagon.

*****

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.