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Dropping the Scientist: Why Losing Yushin Okami is a Bad Move for the UFC

Dropping the Scientist: Why Losing Yushin Okami is a Bad Move for the UFC

“Outside the Octagon, Georges (St-Pierre) is a complete gentleman. Inside the Octagon, he’s a chess player. Great fighters find different ways to be great that are often quite different. Some of them are destroyers, like Mike Tyson, who go in to intimidate and crush. Others are artists, like Anderson Silva, who seem to float in an ethereal way, and somehow, without appearing to be trying, achieve a spectacular victory. Georges is more of a scientist: a cold, rational thinker, bouncing probabilities, looking for ways to subvert his opponent’s attacks before he begins them.” — John Danaher, quoted in Way of the Fight by Georges St-Pierre

The quote above may offer some insight why Renzo Gracie black belt John Danaher is one of my favorite figures in jiu-jitsu and MMA. He quickly breaks down several of the archetypes of a modern fighter — specifically, giving details of his long relationship with Georges St-Pierre. (It is the highlight of St-Pierre’s book, which I reviewed in August.)

Danaher describes the fight game as a matter of “problem solving,” and there are many ways to solve the puzzle.

The surprising news that another MMA scientist, Yushin Okami, has been cut from the UFC roster was a puzzle for many fans.

Yushin “Thunder” Okami’s stifling style had earned critics, but it also, more, importantly, has earned him some great victories. Okami is ranked #6 at middleweight by the UFC and in the top ten of every major ranking system. In a six year run, Okami had gone 13-5 with the promotion, including victories over contenders like Nate Marquardt, Mike Swick, and Mark Munoz.

Sure, in his last bout, Okami suffered a quick defeat at the hands of Ronaldo “Jacaré” Souza, but prior to that, he had won three in a row. Jacaré is likely the top middleweight in the world after Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman, so a loss to him would not seem terribly damaging.

Yet, UFC President Dana White describes Okami has having become a “gatekeeper” and laments that he had failed to win the significant bouts.

Fans aren’t buying it.

If there’s room for Roy Nelson, they argue, why not Okami? Nelson, with his inferior 6-4 UFC record, just had his contract renewed. In fact, I defended Nelson’s spot on the UFC roster earlier in the year.

The UFC has made every effort to re-brand the entire sport of mixed martial arts as the UFC — the be-all, end-all of MMA. How can they fail to reward success?

No, it’s not the losses. They’re actually few and far between.

I’m not buying it either.

It’s not Okami’s losses. It’s his victories which seem to have sealed his fate.

Yushin Okami has a “grinding style” as Kelsey Mowatt puts it in this article which describes possible options for the Japanese superstar.

They call him “Thunder,” but Okami isn’t terribly explosive; he just rolls in — getting the takedown, showing classic positional control, and winning the occasional standup exchange. He generally takes little punishment, but accumulates round after round. Like Ben Askren, who appears to be on his way out of Bellator MMA, his finishes are rare.

Unlike many fighters from Japan, Okami shows considerable acumen in his strength and conditioning regime. He’s a big weight cutter, too. A frequent size advantage plays into his style.

It’s that scientific style that sets him apart.

Maybe he’s not a great fighter like that scientist St-Pierre. Maybe he’s just really good. But he deserves a spot in the UFC.

Elsewhere in Way of the Fight, St-Pierre himself describes fans as disappointed with his wins over the likes of Josh Koscheck. There, St-Pierre avoided any damage, simply fencing with his jab, shooting the takedowns, and grinding out a ground-and-pound victory. But, he writes, “when people start understanding the science of mixed martial arts better, they’ll also understand this part of the fight game… in boxing, you don’t complain when one wins a ‘scientific’ battle. One day that will be true of MMA.”

Okami’s departure is a sign that the day hasn’t come. This decision isn’t just unfair, it may have turned the clock back on MMA.

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