The days of PRIDE might be long gone, but on Saturday Zuffa rears its head back in Saitama, Japan to present UFC 144. It is a plethora of talent on the main card as “J-Lau” Joe Lauzon (21-6) takes on “Showtime” Anthony Pettis (14-2), Hatsu Hioki (23-4-2) battles “Bartimus” Bart Palaszewski (35-14), and Jake Shields (26-6-1) meets with “Sexyama” Yoshihiro Akiyama (14-4) in a highly contested middleweight contest. Rounding off the card are ”Super Samoan” Mark Hunt (7-7) against Cheick Kongo (17-6-1) in a promising scrapfest and “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (31-9) standing across from “Darth” Ryan Bader (13-2) in the co-main event. The lightweight division is due for another change in landscape as current 155lbs. king “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) tries to fend off former WEC Lightweight Champion “Smooth” Ben Henderson (14-2) in the main event. In the middle of all this action, “The Barbarian” Tim Boetsch (14-4) will try to make his newfound home in the middleweight division his stomping grounds but former challenger “Thunder” Yushin Okami (26-6) will try to show that he is still one of the elite. With a challenger seeking to get back into the title run against a prospect looking to start one of his own, this battle between Okami and Boetsch have fireworks guaranteed to light up the Saitama Super Arena.
At First Glance: Tim Boetsch made some waves in the light heavyweight division but since dropping down to middleweight, he has clearly been on the up-and-up, going a perfect 2-0. Now pitted against a former challenger in the 185lbs. bracket, a win over Yushin Okami would launch Boetsch into the big name, big reward fights. As for Okami, the Japanese mainstay is looking to bounce back after a devastating TKO loss courtesy of middleweight champ “The Spider” Anderson Silva (29-4) at UFC 134 in August. Fighting in his homeland, a convincing win is just what Okami needs to put the loss behind him and to start rebuilding his path towards a possible title shot.
In Depth: A wrestler by trade, Boetsch has servicable stand-up to lead in for his takedowns and ground-and-pound. As powerful as he is, Boetsch’s desire to bring the fight to the mat comes with initial difficulty, as even lesser-able wrestlers can sprawl on his opening attempts. Elite-level wrestlers are then left posing an even greater threat towards Boetsch. “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis (8-1) and “The Hitman” Jason Brilz (18-5-1) made it clear that Boetsch’s wrestling was no match for NCAA or All-American level wrestlers. Thanks to his Judo credentials and extensive training at Team Quest with the likes of Chael Sonnen (26-11-1), Okami’s takedown defense is top notch – evident by his ability to brush off the attempts of “The Great” Nate Marquardt (31-10-2) and “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Mark Munoz (10-2). Damaging in the clinch and the cleaner stand-up fighter between the two, Okami serves a severe threat to Boetsch the more they wish to exchange. Boetsch though is one to continuously press forward. Should he pressure Okami enough towards the cage or just long enough to shoot in, he stands a greater chance at securing a takedown and landing the heavy shots that could end the fight.
Wild Card: Defeat is part of every sport and while Yushin Okami has tasted loss before, he will be stepping back into action after being knocked out for the first time in his 30+ fight career at the hands of Anderson Silva. Okami has been under the radar leading up to this match and although he has given some insight about the fight, the magnitude to which Okami was defeated could either prompt him to play more tenatively out of fear or more aggressively out of pride. No matter, it will not be until Okami is back in the cage that the world will see how he responds to his recent shortcoming.
The Verdict: Just like playground adage of “anything you can do, I can do better”, Okami has the tools needed to get past Boetsch. With better hands, a superb takedown defense, and a larger build compared to the rest of the middleweights, he is a challenge for every man in his division. Boetsch is as tough as they come but unless he can bully Okami around, his attempts will likely end up falling short for the better part of the fight. Okami via TKO (Strikes), Round 2