MMA: Yushin Okami

UFC on Fuel 8 by the numbers

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
6:35
AM ET
By Andrew R. Davis
ESPN Stats & Information
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Wanderlei SilvaJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesWanderlei Silva has struggled against American opponents since 2007.

UFC on Fuel TV 8 takes place from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan this Saturday, the sixth time the UFC has traveled to the “Land of the Rising Sun.” The main event sees Wanderlei Silva battle Brian Stann at light heavyweight while Stefan Struve takes on Mark Hunt in a heavyweight bout. Here are the numbers you need to know for Saturday’s fights:

6: Fights Silva has had against an American fighter since his return to the UFC in 2007. He is 1-5 in those bouts, losing his past four (Rich Franklin twice, Chris Leben and Quinton Jackson). “The All-American” has fought just one Brazilian fighter in his career, defeating Jorge Santiago at UFC 130.

Wanderlei Silva, UFC Career vs. American Fighters:
UFC 147 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 132 Chris Leben L, KO
UFC 99 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 92 Quinton Jackson L, KO
UFC 84 Keith Jardine W, KO
UFC 79 Chuck Liddell L, UD

6: Times Silva has been defeated by KO or TKO in his 48-fight career. Four of those knockouts have come inside the UFC Octagon, while the other two were his last two PRIDE fights against Dan Henderson and Mirko Filipovic. The "Cro-Cop" fight was the last time Silva fought in Japan, which served as the home for PRIDE organization. Stann has nine KO/TKO wins in 17 career fights.

75: Percent of wins by "The Axe Murderer" that have come by KO or TKO (24 of 32). When Silva defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 110 by unanimous decision, it marked his first win not by KO or TKO since November 2003 at PRIDE: Final Conflict.

3: The combined takedowns by both fighters in their UFC careers (Silva 2, Stann 1). Each fighter attempts less than one takedown and one submission attempt per 15 minutes. In other words, it would be shocking to see this fight go to the ground unless one of the fighters gets knocked down.

2010: The last time former WEC light heavyweight champion Stann fought at 205 pounds, where he is 8-3 in his career. Stann will be dropping back to middleweight after this fight with Silva, where he holds a 4-2 record.

9: The reach advantage for 7-footer Stefan Struve in his co-main event bout against 5-foot-10 Mark Hunt. Struve’s reach is 83 inches while Hunt has a 74-inch reach. The 83-inch reach for Struve is second behind Jon Jones (84.5 inches) for longest reach in the UFC.

9: Wins for Struve inside the UFC Octagon, tied with Junior dos Santos, Gabriel Gonzaga and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez for third among active heavyweights. With a win, he would join Frank Mir, Cheick Kongo, Andrei Arlovski and Randy Couture as the only UFC fighters with double-digit wins in the division.

Most UFC Wins, Active Heavyweight Fighters:
Frank Mir 14
Cheick Kongo 11
Cain Velasquez 9
Junior dos Santos 9
Gabriel Gonzaga 9
Stefan Struve 9*
*Four-fight win streak

3.9: Submissions attempted per 15 minutes for "The Skyscraper," fifth highest in UFC history and first among heavyweights. "The Super Samoan" has six submission defeats in seven career losses, all arm-related (three by armbar, two by kimura, one by keylock). Of Struve’s 16 submission victories, only three are by armbar (13 submissions by choke).

2: The main and co-main events are the only fights on the card not to feature a fighter from Japan or South Korea. There are nine Asia versus The World contests on the card. Japan is represented by Takanori Gomi, Yushin Okami, Mizuto Hirota, Riki Fukuda, Takeya Mizugaki, and Kazuki Tokudome. The South Koreans are represented in three matchups by Dong Hyun Kim, Kyung Ho Kang and Hyun Gyu Lim.

Solutions for the 'muddleweight' division

January, 21, 2013
1/21/13
6:47
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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SilvaJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesSix months since defending his middleweight title, Anderson Silva is still waiting for a challenger to emerge.
Anderson Silva has surveyed two potential foes up close, only to have things go haywire.

First he traveled to Montreal for UFC 154 as a prelude to a “superfight” against Georges St-Pierre. Then, two months later, he hit Sao Paulo, Brazil, to check out the latest hubbub, Michael Bisping.

St-Pierre won, but wasn’t interested in a bout with Silva. Bisping lost spectacularly, and now we’re right back to where we were long before Silva’s thrown-together gimmick bout with Stephan Bonnar: Who’s next for Anderson Silva?

These are always murky waters.

Silva, whether he admits it or not, wants a rare blend of marketability, worthiness, nonrepetitiveness and beatability in his opponents. He will settle, of course, but Silva’s camp is not afraid to air its druthers. And now that the St-Pierre reverie has past, and Bisping -- our modern-day Sisyphus -- has tumbled back down the hill, who’s out there?

Vitor Belfort beat Bisping on Saturday night, and had a long-shot case. Yet (somewhat inexplicably) he chose to call out light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, in hopes of a rematch of their UFC 152 bout. Dana White reiterated that Belfort would not get the crack at Jones, anyway, given the dramatic finish of their first fight at UFC 126. So no Belfort.

Alan Belcher lost to Yushin Okami very unspectacularly, so he’s out -- and so is Okami, who had his shot at UFC 134 and doesn’t do himself any favors with his grinding, unspectacular style. Feel free to exhale, because it won’t be Okami.

Hector Lombard, whom Bisping referred to as a “little poison dwarf” not so long ago, slipped against Tim Boetsch in his UFC debut, even if he redeemed himself a little against Rousimar Palhares a few months later. He’s an option, but he’s motivated in strange ways. Besides, he's fighting Okami next, and here's guessing he wouldn't mind Bisping after that.
[+] EnlargeAnderson Silva
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comFight fans aren't exactly clamoring for a rematch between Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami.
Mark Munoz slipped against Chris Weidman (badly), and Weidman lacks billboard appeal and experience (according to Silva, and Silva’s opinion has echoed down the media chambers). Tim Boetsch lost to Costas Philippou, and Philippou is too green, too new and too unproven.

There are out-of-division intrigues. Dan Henderson would do it, but Silva hates repeat customers, and besides, Hendo’s got a date with Lyoto Machida at UFC 157. Rashad Evans is a possibility, but he has business first with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. If Rory MacDonald wasn’t already locked up with a fight against Carlos Condit, maybe he’d use this opportunity to move up a weight class. But that fight is made, and don’t even try to talk to MacDonald about foregoing his chance to avenge that Condit loss.

Ronaldo Souza is interesting, but he’s not the reigning Strikeforce champion. That leaves Luke Rockhold, who was just a few days ago calling out a cusp top-10 fighter in Philippou. He is the reigning Strikeforce champion, but since dethroning “Jacare” he’s fought Keith Jardine and Tim Kennedy. Should he be asked to fight Silva in his UFC debut, it would feel like he was being jumped into a gang.

The most logical name is Jones. Jones fights Chael Sonnen in April and, realistically, isn’t expected to encounter much turbulence there. Silva could wait it out. But that would be a long time between bouts.

So what is the UFC to do? It would be nice if things were simple, but they’re not. It’s either pick between Lombard, Rockhold or Weidman, or dredge up another Bonnar-type as a potboiler.

Or, the UFC could think bigger. Have Silva travel one more time to check out a potential foe. This time to New Jersey. Put him cageside for Sonnen/Jones, as a looming presence for Jones should he win. With no true No. 1 contender within the division for matchmaker Joe Silva, set the table for the fight people are most curious about.

Convincing Silva might be difficult, but if there’s going to be a superfight, then make a superfight already. The timing isn’t perfect, but given how complex superfights are to put together, it might be as good as it gets.

Silva/Jones chorus swells a little louder

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
12:23
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Now that Anderson Silva has done away with Stephan Bonnar, a perfunctory matter that he handled with the usual play-action legerdemain, we can go back to disagreeing with his finicky taste in opponents.

We can, and we will.

Why not UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones next? Why not middleweight contender Chris Weidman, at least? Why must it be Georges St. Pierre or bust? And from the outside looking in, could there have been a more fudging ad campaign than the “anytime, anywhere” one attached to Silva in the UFC 153 promos? After all, the UFC had to pull teeth to get him to fight Chael Sonnen a second time. (And for whatever reason, now it’s Jones’ teeth being pulled to warm up to the idea of the ever-pesky Sonnen. The fight game, ladies and gentlemen.)

But think about all the entitlements going on at this moment.

We are resting our heads on our knuckles at the prospect of a St. Pierre-Silva superfight. The one that was on everybody’s minds a couple of years ago. Neither Silva nor St. Pierre has lost in the meantime. St. Pierre’s been hurt -- and he still has to get through Carlos Condit -- but he’s been dominant. Silva’s been choosy, but he’s been every bit the pound-for-pound best in the sport for years.

The prospect of those two coming together at long last should look like a clash of the titans. One for the ages and all that.

Problem is, with Jones out there punishing his weight class the same way that Silva is -- and with Silva cameoing from time to time at 205 pounds and already the right size -- we return to our druthers. We trade whatever Silva’s sense of entitlement is for our own. Jones-Silva is a ridiculous fight. It’s the more ridiculous fight. It’s a more fitting, timely, impossible to ignore potential mega-clash that could fill a 100,000-seat stadium.

It’s the ultimate for a company that uses just those kinds of adjectives in its very name.

And it’s the fight everybody wants except for the guys throwing the punches. That last part? Why, that’s just something to overcome. At least according to UFC president Dana White, who is confident he can open a dialogue between the two with a Brink’s truck.

The truth is, he probably can. Jones has made it clear he’s a brand. Brands need money to be brands. Silva, too, is a brand. Humans with laurels, yes, but brands with the ability to reason and rationalize and with business-minded people working their ears.

Leverage opens the floodgates for possibility, so Jones-Silva could happen.
[+] EnlargeAnderson Silva and Yushin Okami
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comHow many time and for how much longer can Anderson Silva beat down on the Yushin Okamis of the MMA world?

But what’s funny is that at 16-0 in the UFC and as the longest reigning champion in company history, we really don’t like Silva dictating his schedule. We suspect vulnerability right away, because, as everybody should know by now, greatness comes with a need to be destroyed. We are forever giving way to those suspicions.

Right now Jones is the highest-watt fight the UFC can possibly put on, a fight that Silva would enter as an underdog. And if Silva thinks Weidman is too green for a title shot, it’s because he has an ounce of kryptonite.

That’s how we see it. And there’s truth in it. That’s just how it works.

Even as Silva defies odds in MMA -- odds that are impossible in terms of four-ounce gloves -- we constantly want Silva to prove something to us. That’s just life in a company that rolls out its motto as “the ultimate proving ground.” Proof is ongoing. In fact, when you think about it, proof is forever out of our grasp. If Silva walked through GSP, Jones and Weidman, there would be people pointing out how foolish he’d look against Cain Velasquez or whoever else has come up the rungs at that time.

Silva is 37 years old, and he’s the best we’ve seen in this sport. When he dropped his hands and began to wig out on Bonnar, it was of the “here it comes” familiarity. We have seen this switch before with Forrest Griffin, with Yushin Okami, with Sonnen. That moment when Silva comes to life and the games are over, when the guy in front of him turns to prey.

That’s when he knocks the extra off of extraordinary men. He leaves them ordinary.

Could he do that to Jones, or Weidman, or St. Pierre? Wrong question. What we’re keeping vigilance for is the guy who could make Silva appear that way. And by pining for Jones, we aren’t exactly masking the fact.

Mystery men make up co-main at UFC 149

July, 17, 2012
7/17/12
11:19
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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BoetschEd Mulholland for ESPN.comTim Boetsch, top, is quietly gaining momentum with each win at middleweight.
The curiosity in the UFC 149 co-main event isn’t Hector Lombard. It’s Tim Boetsch. Nobody saw him coming. Yushin Okami still isn’t sure what hit him that night in Saitama, when Boetsch came charging out in the third round with a mean salvo of uppercuts.

Boetsch has the “let’s see how long this can go” feel to him -- the mark of an overachiever. That’s why not very many people are talking about him as a threat to anything. Not to Anderson Silva. Not to Lombard. Not even to his original opponent, Michael Bisping (back when UFC 149 was a whole different event and people were talking about Erik Koch’s tan).

With all the conversation centered on “who’s next” for Silva, the focal point has been Chris Weidman (because he fought last) and on Lombard (because he can bench press the entire division). You can see why. Lombard has won 20 fights in a row, and hasn’t been defeated in 25. He comes from the other side of the partition (Bellator), where he’s been ruining careers for the last few years.

If Lombard wins and does it emphatically at UFC 149 in Calgary, he’ll look like the most marketable match-up of existing middleweights to get at Silva. Silva might welcome the chance, too. For starters, he’s not (necessarily) a wrestler. Weidman, a proud all-American Hofstra man, looks like a stylistic problem for Silva. Lombard, on the other hand, wants to knock you out.

You know what Silva does? He knocks out guys who want to knock you out. It’s his forte. This is a fight that would speak to him.
[+] EnlargeLombard
Dave Mandel for Sherdog.comA loud contingent believes Hector Lombard, left, wouldn't be worthy of a title shot after just one win.

And from the UFC’s perspective, Lombard/Silva isn’t an anticlimax to Sonnen/Silva. It’s a fight that puts Sonnen in the rearview mirror and opens up a new slate of intrigues. The "champion versus champion" plot; each fighter with a trail of winning streaks that snake around the block.

The UFC likes that.

Here’s the thing, though. People are complaining in advance that a single win in the UFC doesn’t merit a title shot. Bisping, who has hovered in contention for years, is leading the chorus on it. He’s got a point, but it feels like half of the story.

The full underlying suspicion is that a single win in the UFC -- especially if it’s a win over Tim Boetsch -- isn’t enough to merit a title shot. The Boetsch factor is strong. If Lombard fought and defeated Brian Stann, that’s one thing. But you know how it’ll be -- if Lombard treats Boetsch the same as he did Trevor Prangley and Falaniko Vitale, he will have added another journeyman to his collection. Nothing will have changed with UFC-centric types who hate on Lombard for not having knocked off name brands.

The spin on all that? Hey, it adds to his mystique.

But Boetsch is the true mystery here. He’s been around forever and has only just arrived.

He’s a guy who toiled as a light heavyweight, went 2-2 in his first stint in the UFC, beat up some guys in smaller theaters, then went 1-1 in his second UFC stint as a 205-pounder. When Phil Davis submitted him with a modified one-arm Kimura -- later renamed the “Philmura” -- Boetsch dropped to middleweight.
[+] EnlargeBoetsch
Susumu Nagao for ESPN.comTim Boetsch's come-from-behind win over Yushin Okami proved he's a force at 185.

Since then? Painstakingly quiet reinvention. Two fairly unspectacular wins over Kendall Grove and Nick Ring and a two-round, one-sided beatdown to Okami at UFC 144 until in the third round in that bout, when he stormed back for what has to be the forerunner for comeback of year.

Just like that, here he is; through circumstance and musical chairs, Boetsch is co-headlining a pay-per-view. And imagine if he wins? If Boetsch pulls it off he'll have exposed the greatest masquerade that ever was. In the told-you-so tradition of hindsight, Lombard then becomes grossly overrated. And part of why Lombard would then seem grossly overrated is because there’s something about losing to Boetsch that enhances the effect.

What are the stakes in this one? It might just be shaping perception one way or another.

Lombard could use Boetsch as a trampoline to Silva, and Boetsch could take one more step towards something unthinkable. But it’s safe to say Boetsch wouldn’t get an immediate title shot with a win. Whereas Lombard is marketable enough to do away with merit, Boetsch isn’t greatly marketable, and merit is slippery in his hands.

He’ll still seem like he’s overachieving, and, at some point, that becomes its own neat trick.

Silva’s long journey to the breaking point

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
8:14
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
Anderson Silva finally let his words do the talking, rather than his sharp appendages.

What a rare moment. So rare that it could more accurately be called a “never” moment.

Silva aired his bad intentions for Chael Sonnen on the UFC 148 media call on Monday. If taken out of context of the fight game, these were the kinds of threats that usually end in litigation. He said he’s going to break Sonnen’s face, careful not to exclude a single tooth from his mouth.

And boom! Just like that, the drama to UFC 148 has two sides. It was a couple of years in the making, but Sonnen finally made Silva want to assault him, which -- as any psychology major would say -- is exactly what Sonnen has wanted all along.

Let’s remember how this all started.

In 2009 and early 2010, Sonnen, seemingly from out of nowhere, defeated a couple of high-ranking guys by the names of Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt. Before he fought Marquardt at UFC 109, he told those who would listen, “I have no choice but to win this fight.” As a 4-to-1 underdog, he talked as if his life depended on overcoming Marquardt, who was the guy most thought would be facing Silva next.

Sonnen was doing real estate at the time in suburban Portland. He had vowed to his late father to become a champion. He had a not-yet-totally public fetish for pro wrestling and a great understanding of how friction can be made of fiction. There were political ventures.

Just before Marquardt, Sonnen hit the switch and embodied all those elements of his biography. What happened next, it seemed, was as close to an example of self-fulfillment as MMA fans will ever see play out in public. Suddenly, Sonnen was a driven fighter, a parody, a fun-loving hypocrite, a one-man marketing campaign, a showman and a legitimate threat to the throne. He was loathed, he was loved.

He was a godsend to a division with MMA’s best fighter at the top and no known rival.

And above all else, he was smart.

Leading up to that Marquardt fight was when Sonnen first began casting stones Silva’s way. He said harsh things, audacious things and some comically untrue things. Things that felt goofy to hear and impossible to back up. To that point, Silva had been nothing but respected by everybody he destroyed. In fact, Rich Franklin enjoyed this kind of punishment so much that he began training with Silva. That’s a special sort of abuse.

When Sonnen beat the odds and ground Marquardt into a pulp with no-nonsense wrestling, his style looked dangerously like beacon-green kryptonite to Silva’s striking. At least it did for those with imaginations and/or cauliflower ear.

You remember the lead-up to UFC 117 -- it was like no other lead-up in UFC history.

Sonnen lambasted Silva for three months in the media. It was a piece of pure cunning, with Silva coming off the worst performance of his career in Abu Dhabi against Demian Maia. Sonnen’s timing was perfect to be the foil and vindicator of the people who had grown tired of watching Silva dance. He was saying publicly what plenty of people thought.

And that was the first allure -- Sonnen was the guy who would force Silva to fight. He was going to pry the predator back out of him, and this was music to the UFC’s ears. And guess what? He did. He backed up every word and brought the fight to Silva, dominating nine-tenths of the bout. Silva stared up at the lights at Oracle Arena in Oakland for nearly 23 minutes, eating elbows and having his ears boxed, all the while with a head burrowing into his chest.

Never had we seen somebody talk the game like Sonnen did and back it up ... only to, in the end, leave it at the altar of fruition.
Sonnen/Marquardt
Dave Mandel for Sherdog.comTurning point: A win over Nate Marquardt, right, marked a new stage in Chael Sonnen's career.

Silva persevered, and Sonnen tapped. Then Sonnen got popped for elevated testosterone, was suspended, and pleaded guilty to money laundering. And in the process, became an immense star.

But add this to his list of credits, too: He also awoke Silva, who has gone back to annihilating opponents (Vitor Belfort, then Okami). Through it all, Sonnen has continued yapping. The lead-up to UFC 148 began the moment he tapped out back in 2010. For the past couple of years, he’s been calling Silva a fake and a coward and poking his finger in the champion’s chest. He’s done this relentlessly, to the point that it angers him to be the only one in a two-man party selling what is the greatest rematch in UFC history.

Not anymore. Silva finally fired back on Monday.

“He doesn’t deserve to be in the Octagon,” he said. “And when the time comes and the time is right, I’m going to break his face and break every one of his teeth in his mouth.”

It’s on.

And you know why this feels so personal? Because other than the two years of fermentation, each guy needed the other as much as the sport needed the rivalry. If Silva had been anything less than a gentleman’s champion -- a quiet great who’d been strictly revered -- Sonnen’s words wouldn’t have meant anything. If Sonnen hadn’t come along and provoked Silva, who knows if he’d have lost interest in the fight game? Now, the memories of Maia are as far away as Abu Dhabi.

Sonnen helped bury the memory.

And Sonnen made Silva the canvas of his greatest work. He didn’t beat him the first time through, but he has used the platform impossibly well. Without Silva, Sonnen never becomes Chael P. Sonnen from the “mean streets of West Linn.” Without Sonnen, Silva retires without a rival -- a rival that helped perpetuate his greatness into his late 30s through two solid years of pride shots. When this is all over, the two should thank each other.

Monday was good. Silva finally broke character and said publicly that he wants to punch holes in Sonnen’s face. We all knew this to be the case, but it never hurts to hear it. So what is the public’s response?

It can’t be anything other than these three words: It’s about time.

Bisping/Boetsch to Calgary is the right play

May, 1, 2012
5/01/12
4:23
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Michael Bisping and Yoshihiro AkiyamaMartin McNeil for ESPN.comA dose of Michael Bisping will surely add some spice to UFC 149.
With Chael Sonnen’s rematch against Anderson Silva now migrating from Brazil to Las Vegas, UFC 148 becomes the Miami Heat of fight cards. It is stacked, stuffed, loaded and insane.

And let’s face it, this annually huge Vegas card had a pot of gold drop in its lap: Sonnen/Silva II is already a big enough fight to tune in. The UFC could have booked Yoislandy Izquierdo against T.J. Grant as the co-main and things would still have been fine on July 7.

But the UFC’s July 4 weekend is all Roman candles and Saturn missiles, and it’s quickly become a countdown of matchmaking franchises. Aside from Sonnen/Silva II, there’s Urijah Faber versus Dominick Cruz III, Forrest Griffin versus Tito Ortiz II, Cung Le versus Rich Franklin I. All told, there are two belts in play, a swan song or a UFC pioneer, and a return to middleweight for the former champion Franklin, who is 100 percent guaranteed to put on a features-contorting brawl.

If that weren’t enough, Demian Maia will see how he holds up against human Velcro, Dong Hyun Kim, in his welterweight debut.

To Vegas go all the spoils.

To far off Calgary in the north, just two weeks later on July 21? Smartly, Tim Boetsch and Michael Bisping.

What was meant to happen in Vegas isn’t staying there -- Boetsch and Bisping, a big intrigue pairing of middleweights that was originally slated for UFC 148, is now headed for UFC 149 in Alberta. And this is ultimately a good move by the UFC. Why lose a contender’s type bout to a thousand bunched-up storylines at UFC 148 while peripheral PPV cards -- UFC 147 and UFC 149 -- could use the additional heft?

When the first question out of people’s mouths is nearly always “what’s next,” the guys chasing Sonnen/Silva are pretty important to the scheme of things. In the fight game we’re dealing in tapestries. The newly resurrected Tim Boetsch and the MMA’s “forever contender” Michael Bisping will get a better shake at the Saddledome behind headliners Jose Aldo and Erik Koch. Let Sonnen/Silva play out, and this fight takes on more significance. It’s our duty to talk, after all, and to invent the stakes while playing at what’s in Joe Silva’s head.

And right now, a lot of people more readily recall Boetsch losing by “Philmura” against Phil Davis instead of him storming back against Yushin Okami at UFC 144. If he’s really closing on a title shot at 185 pounds, Boetsch could use the boost of a co-main event type spotlight. Right now he’s more journeyman than contender. He’s never been the recipient of Zuffa’s marketing machine. It’s time to gussy him up.

As for Bisping? He believes the same thing he’s been believed for years -- that he’s the hands down No. 1 contender. Obviously there’s still the matter of Mark Munoz and Chris Weidman out there, but Bisping might actually be on to something this time through. With unpredictable circumstances and injuries and schedule syncing and suspensions and all the things that get in the way in obvious matchmaking, the Briton really might be next in line.

Or he might not. But that we can care sufficiently enough to find out is lucky for him and Tim Boetsch. In this rare case it’s better to jump cards than end up lost in the shuffle.

Rich Franklin returns to his rightful home

March, 20, 2012
3/20/12
5:01
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Dan Henderson and Rich FranklinMartin McNeil for ESPN.com Rich Franklin, left, can learn a thing or two about career resurgence from old foe Dan Henderson.
Before guys like Joseph Benavidez and Jon Fitch knew limbo, Rich Franklin was the original purgatory in the UFC. He was the middleweight champion for 16 months in the mid-aughts, beginning with a declarative victory over Evan Tanner and ending three fights later where things for all men come to an end ... with Anderson Silva.

Back in the day when immediate rematches were hard to come by, Franklin had to beat Jason MacDonald and Yushin Okami to get a chance at reclaiming his belt. “Ace” finally stepped in with Anderson Silva again at UFC 77, in a conflict that was dubiously dubbed “Hostile Territory.” That is, at least for Silva. Franklin was in the friendly confines of his native Cincinnati, eschewing his trademark Neapolitan trunks for those sporting Bengals colors. It was a homecoming full of furnace warmth.

Until he was being fetched back into consciousness with smelling salts.

For the second time, Silva made quick work of Franklin -- near mirror annihilations, primarily from the clinch -- and the former champion found himself in career limbo. The aftermath was unsettling, just as it has been throughout history with boxing’s newly obsolete. The cold question of “what now?”
[+] EnlargeRich Franklin
Ed Mulholland/US PresswireRich Franklin found himself without a division to call home after losing twice to Anderson Silva at 185.

Half a century ago, boxing heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson lost his belt and subsequent rematch to Sonny Liston via decisive first-round knockouts. Franklin had to come to a similar realization that Patterson did back in the day, which was this: Nobody wants to see a third match of a one-sided series. That’s a hell of a thing to come to grips with for a one-time champion. In Patterson’s day, you just fought on. In the rapidly changing, modern day UFC, Franklin at least had some options.

That’s why after he beat Travis Lutter in his last 185-pound bout, Franklin decided to move up to light heavyweight and make a run there. It was with reluctance that he did so -- remember how precise he was with weighing out his food? -- but the gatekeeper gig wasn’t for him.

Problem is, he’s been a sort of passing tourist ever since.

Over the past few years, Franklin has gone 3-3 outside the middleweight division (2-2 at 205 pounds, and 1-1 as a 195-pound catchweight). His latest, a loss to Forrest Griffin at UFC 126, left a lot to the imagination. But what was concrete was that Franklin was no longer a threat to anybody’s title. To frustrate matters, he underwent shoulder surgery and has been on the sidelines for more than a year. A lot of thinking goes on when a year passes off the calendar like that.
[+] EnlargeLe
Icon SMIA bout with Cung Le won't launch Franklin into the title picture, but it should be a fan-friendly affair.

Now, to the consternation of dudes like Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Franklin is turning back up as a middleweight again at 37 and a half years old. He’ll face a state-of-the-art action kicker in Cung Le, who only fights one way (thrillingly). If you liked Franklin/Wanderlei Silva or Le/Wanderlei Silva, then you’ll love Franklin/Le. Noses will almost certainly be smashed and further reconfigured into sharp right angles that only a math teacher can appreciate.

It’s the kind of fight that is only a fight. No context needed.

And that’s where Franklin should be for his divisional homecoming. Forget a title run at this point, he wants fun (wholesale violent) shows in the twilight of his career. He doesn’t want to be smothered by Forrest Griffin for large segments of an event; he wants to be in fights like his one with Chuck Liddell at UFC 115, where a broken arm means you throw your good one and hope for the best. He wants to stand and bang. He’s old school. In fact, he’s one of the last of the surviving old guard. Stand and trade in each other’s wheelhouse? Now you’re talking. Surely there’s another Nate Quarry out there to add to his highlight reel.

Le provides this chance. And you never know -- Dan Henderson began bouncing around weight classes at 37 after losing to Anderson Silva, too. His emphasis has always been to put on fights that fans want to see and let title shots fall where they may. Now at age 41, Henderson is accomplishing both with no signs of slowing down. Mark Hunt will be 38 next week and yet is looking 25. Randy Couture didn’t get rolling until he was in his late 30s.

Maybe Franklin finds a similar resurgence. And, if not, bring on Le or guys just like him, and that’s good enough.

Boetsch, Hunt lead UFC's underdog charge

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
2:24
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Mark HuntSusumu Nagao for ESPN.com
If, locked away somewhere deep inside the Richmond, Va., home of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, there is a secret whiteboard bearing a rough sketch of the fight company’s future plans, it's a good bet there are two names that definitely aren’t on it: Tim Boetsch and Mark Hunt.

At least they weren’t on it before Saturday night at UFC 144, when Boetsch and Hunt pulled off two of the card’s longest long shots. Now, the promotion better hope those plans were written in dry-erase marker.

The UFC’s first trip back to Japan in more than a decade was a good night all around for underdogs, with seven of the card’s 12 bouts ending in wins for guys on the plus side of the ledger.

Two-to-one 'dogs Ryan Bader and Issei Tamura were each victorious -- Bader over Quinton Jackson, Tamura against Tiequan Zhang -- while Vaughn Lee trumped 3-to-1 odds and scored a "submission of the night" bonus for his first-round armbar of Kid Yamamoto. Chris Cariaso (+160) upset Takeya Mizugaki via unanimous decision and it bears mentioning that Yoshihiro Akiyama (+230) very nearly did the same in his welterweight debut against Jake Shields.

Even Ben Henderson went off as a slight underdog to champion Frankie Edgar, before claiming the UFC lightweight title by unanimous decision in the evening’s main event.

None, though, could quite stack up to what Boetsch and Hunt accomplished. Though both guys had already crafted some unlikely success in recent appearances, they came into this event as nothing more than afterthoughts in the UFC rat race. When it was over, Boetsch and Hunt left Japan with matching victories over top-10 opponents, matching three-fight win streaks in the Octagon and matching statements that they can no longer be ignored in their respective weight classes.

Against Yushin Okami, Boetsch’s 3-to-1 stakes matched Lee’s as the most lopsided on the card and for just over 10 minutes, it looked like the prognosticators had it exactly right. Okami, who came into the bout ranked No. 5 on the ESPN.com middleweight power rankings, bullied Boetsch around the cage, bloodied him up, took him down, mounted him and by any measure appeared on the verge of a dominating unanimous decision win.

With 4:30 on the clock in the final round, though, Boetsch stumbled Okami with an overhand right and then rushed him, using a series of uppercuts against the fence to drop him and force referee Leon Roberts to call for a TKO stoppage.
[+] EnlargeTim Boetsch
Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesYushin Okami, facing, seemingly had the bout in hand -- until this happened.

Was the stunning comeback a fluke? Not according to the social mores of MMA, where we’re taught that finishing fights is the gold standard of determining an athlete’s worthiness.

It’s true that prior to his cut to middleweight in 2011, Boetsch had been a lower-middleclass 205-pounder who’d been in and out of the UFC while posting a 3-3 record. Now at 185 pounds, though, Boetsch has put together a string of victories that -- while people continue to doubt him -- has him positioned for another high-profile fight against a top 10 opponent. He wins one more and you might not be able to keep him out of the expanded middleweight title picture.

Hunt had a slightly more cut-and-dried time with Cheick Kongo. Kongo, previously ESPN’s No.10-ranked heavyweight, had been dogged by questions about his chin in recent outings.

Unfortunately for him, Hunt answered those questions in short order, flooring him with a counter left hook and then following with a barrage of rights that ended things in just 2:11.

At 37 years old, Hunt may currently be on the UFC’s most unlikely tear after losing six consecutive MMA fights between 2006-10. The company only even elected to give him a couple of fights in the Octagon to fulfill the requirement of his previous contract with Pride.

Now, it feels like matchmakers won't quite know what to do with him. For that matter, it seemed like maybe nobody even bothered to tell Hunt (who was +230) he’d get interviewed inside the cage if he won, as the former K-1 striker looked befuddled by Joe Rogan’s attempts to elicit some kind of verbal response into his microphone.

Boetsch and Hunt certainly led the charge of the underdogs at UFC 144. They sent Kongo and Okami (and maybe UFC brass) scurrying back to the drawing board. They probably ruined a lot of betting parlays, too.

Will either of them be able to push their UFC successes any further? Conventional wisdom says no; that both guys are probably too limited athletically and skill-wise to compete with the true cream of the crop in their divisions.

Then again, conventional wisdom said they weren’t even supposed to make it this far, so perhaps the surprises will keep coming. Perhaps Boetach and Hunt can keep erasing guys from the UFC’s future plans.

In defeat, Bisping was still most impressive

January, 30, 2012
1/30/12
2:57
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Amid all of the fallout this week from the tepid results of the UFC’s second live show on network television -- where many of the criticisms are warranted and many are not -- it’s somehow fitting that the event’s most impressive performance came from a guy who didn’t even win his fight.

Arguably only Michael Bisping emerged from Saturday night’s largely underwhelming UFC on Fox 2 main card looking better than when he entered. By dropping a tight decision loss to top middleweight contender Chael Sonnen, Bisping actually improved his stock while many of the other the marquee names could merely tread water or -- in some cases -- took steps backward in the eyes of hardcore fans and MMA-centric media types.

Naturally, like most everything in the fight game, this had more to do with our own expectations than anything else.

As more than a 3-to-1 underdog headed into the fight, most observers thought Bisping would get crushed by Sonnen. We’d just seen the former Oregon wrestler tear through what seemed like a bigger, perhaps more dangerous version of Bisping in Brian Stann at UFC 136 and, on paper, we didn’t see any way the Brit could ward off Sonnen’s smothering takedowns and top control over three rounds.

In the end, Bisping didn’t pull off an upset, but he sure did a lot better than we anticipated.

While he couldn’t totally prevent Sonnen from taking him to mat, Bisping didn’t look out of his league, either. He proved surprisingly capable at using the fence to quickly get back to his feet and in the standup exchanges, he touched up his hard-charging opponent with crisp, if ultimately ineffectual punches.

Perhaps most shocking was the way Bisping afforded himself in the clinch. He held his own when Sonnen tried to muscle in close to him and even controlled some of the action when they locked up against the chain link -- though not as much as the UFC broadcast team would have you believe, especially in the first round.
[+] EnlargeBisping/Sonnen
Ross Dettman for ESPN.comMichael Bisping, left, proved Saturday he didn't cross the Atlantic solely to pick up a paycheck.

Heck, some observers even thought Bisping won the bout, though a second viewing of the fight confirms that a 29-28 verdict in favor of Sonnen was probably the right one. In the end, the American eked out Rounds 2 and 3, though in total the fight was far closer than his unanimous decision win might otherwise let on. That one judge scored it 30-27 for Sonnen even seems unconscionable, as Bisping clearly controlled the second stanza.

All told, it was a great performance from a guy who has been dogged by skeptics and naysayers ever since winning Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show back in 2006. Even in defeat, Bisping moved up two slots on the ESPN.com middleweight Power Rankings -- from No. 8 to No. 6 -- and now appears well positioned to take on another high-caliber opponent in his next fight.

Perhaps a returning Mark Munoz (No. 4) might even make sense for him, after the man originally slated to meet Sonnen at this event returns from a minor elbow injury. If not Munoz, then maybe the winner of fifth-ranked Yushin Okami’s upcoming UFC 144 tangle with Tim Boetsch or newly minted Top 10er Chris Weidman, who debuted at No. 9 this week after turning in Saturday night’s second-best showing by defeating Demian Maia on short notice.

We are often told there is no such thing as a good loss, but Bisping puts that adage to the test this week. While he overachieved, Sonnen, Maia, Rashad Evans and Phil Davis -- much like the overall UFC broadcast itself -- didn’t quite live up to our expectations.

Card changes fall in Sonnen's favor

January, 18, 2012
1/18/12
11:34
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Chael SonnenNick Laham/Getty ImagesChael Sonnen, top, might as well book his flight to Brazil for an Anderson Silva rematch.
When Dana White announced that Mark Munoz was out of his UFC on FOX 2 fight with Chael Sonnen just 11 days before the Jan. 28 card, it sent MMA’s Twitter feeds into dawning.

It trickled in like this: Too bad for Mark Munoz (he’s such a nice guy, and let’s hope he’s OK). Great for Michael Bisping (and very deserving). What happens to Demian Maia (somebody plug Rousimar Palhares in, and let him charge). Great for Chris Weidman (what an opportunity to fight Demian Maia).

It’s a lot of epiphany to absorb in one scroll and, as always, people exercised their right to congratulate other people as publicly as possible.

One interesting thing was that many seemed to think that the new makeshift lineup was better than the original, if not far more just -- Bisping should have been fighting Sonnen all along. In other words, we were sitting on a pile of unaired complaints until yesterday, which is exactly why UFC matchmaker Joe Silva doesn’t have a Twitter account.

Yet there was one thing that nearly everybody outside of England agreed upon -- with the new pairing of Sonnen and Bisping in a middleweight title eliminator, Sonnen just got clearance to land in Sao Paulo for his fight with Anderson Silva come June.

Michael Bisping, for as sturdy and willing and ultimately successful as he is, won’t match up well against a guy who fights horizontally. British fighters aren't known for their wrestling. Worse, the British can't stop Americans from wrestling, not with snarky verbal protests, anyway. This thing looks one-sided. Even Vegas opened the books with Sonnen better than a 4-to-1 favorite. With odds like that, it looks like a Strikeforce event.
[+] EnlargeMichael Bisping
Al Powers for ESPN.comThe old jab-and-run routine won't be an option for Michael Bisping come Jan. 28.

Yet despite all the quickly digested excitement of the Chicago card rearrangements, think about the (potential) gift this is to Sonnen.

He went from fighting a guy in Munoz who looked like a huge monkey wrench in his plans to rematch Silva, to the type of fighter he is accustomed to dominating. Sonnen doesn’t do Muay Thai plum, and he doesn’t tolerate jab-and-retreat. He tackles. Then he buries his head in chests and flails the loosest appendages he can toward the supine man’s head. He did it to Nate Marquardt, Yushin Okami and Brian Stann. His thing is to conquer.

Against Bisping, it’s hard to envision it going much differently. Bisping should show up to Chicago with a bow on top.

At least, that’s the thinking. While Chris Weidman looks like a Charlie Brenneman special for Demian Maia, Bisping appears more like a turnstile for Sonnen. The puncher’s chance will always be in play, but he might need to land it from his back.

And if Sonnen does walk through Bisping as so many believe, he might consider throwing out this all-purpose word in his postfight speech: Obrigado.

After all, there will be millions of paulistanos saying the same thing.

UFC 144 main card lacks Japanese content

November, 28, 2011
11/28/11
1:12
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Edgar/JacksonSusumu Nagao Look for Frankie Edgar, left, and Quinton Jackson to steal the show at UFC 144.
When the UFC went to Rio de Janeiro in August, it was a spiritual homecoming. A lot of time had passed since the salad days of 1998, and a grown-up UFC was crashing back triumphantly to the land that bore its earliest fruits.

That meant UFC 134 -- more commonly referred to as UFC Rio -- became a celebration of Gracie genealogy, of the Nogueira’s, of assorted Silva’s, of Chute Boxe, of the entire neglected culture of limb origamists everywhere who were so instrumental in changing the way people approached fighting. There were a dozen bouts on the card. Only one fight didn’t have a Brazilian in it, an out-of-place clash between Yves Jabouin (French-Canadian) and Ian Loveland (American). Smartly, that was the first prelim of the night, designed to play out while people found their seats.

Otherwise, it was Brazilian pandemonium. In a Brazil against the world scenario, a Brazilian had his hand raised in 10 of the remaining 11 bouts. It was all about Brazil and its best fighters. The Cariocas were whipped into a frenzy that night.

UFC 144 is official for Feb. 26 at the Saitama Super Arena, and it’s been simplified to UFC Japan. This, too, is a homecoming of sorts to the native roots. As Lorenzo Fertitta talked about the old recipes in a press release, saying, “Japan is the spiritual home of martial arts -- the world has learned from the Japanese many aspects of how to compete in hand-to-hand combat with respect and honor.” This parlays nicely with the UFC Rio vibe, which courted a similar muse. If there’s a difference, it’s this -- Japan may be a spiritual home of martial arts, but not its best practitioners. There are scant few Japanese fighters on UFC Japan’s main card.
[+] EnlargeAkiyama
Al Bello/Getty ImagesYoshihiro Akiyama is the only Japanese fighter who will appear on UFC 144's main card.

In fact, there’s only one: Yoshihiro Akiyama. And he’s on there because he’s fighting a big name in Jake Shields in a new weight class (170 pounds) after losing three in a row as a middleweight. This is a curiosity bout for a man in search of lost mojo.

Otherwise, UFC Japan’s main card is all about the imports. Why? Because it has to be. Frankie Edgar from Jersey, against Colorado's own Ben Henderson for the lightweight belt. Pride star Quinton Jackson returns to Japan to fight wrestler Ryan Bader, who jumped at the opportunity to fight in Japan (just as he did in 2010 when the opportunity to do battle with Keith Jardine in Sydney arose). A re-imagined Mark Hunt takes on Frenchman Cheick Kongo in a heavyweight fight. Americans Anthony Pettis and Joe Lauzon round out the card in a lightweight bout.

Where’s Yushin Okami, the man Dana White called “the best fighter to ever come out of Japan” ahead of his fight with Anderson Silva in Rio? He’s on the prelims against revivalist Tim Boetsch. Okami headlines a fight in Rio as a stranger in a strange land (read: as prey for Anderson Silva), yet can’t crack the main card in his native Japan. It doesn’t help that there’s a very real chance of a stylistic stalemate in this one, but the point is this -- the best fighter to come out of Japan doesn’t exactly carry the importance that the imports do.

Same goes for the “Iron Broom” Hatsu Hioki, who underwhelmed in his debut victory against George Roop. He’s on the prelims, even if it is a No. 1 contender spot he’s fighting for against Bart Palaszewski. Ditto the “Fireball Kid,” Takanori Gomi (1-3 in his last four), Norifumi Yamamoto (1-4 in his last five), Riki Fukuda (coming off a loss to Nick Ring) and Takeya Mizugaki (who has traded wins and losses in his last eight bouts). All of these guys had successful careers in Japan that haven’t yet translated to the Octagon. In fact, some of them wouldn’t be on the roster if there wasn’t going to be such a thing as UFC Japan, so there’s no room for quibbling about placement.

Unlike with UFC Rio, UFC Japan won’t (and can’t) be painted as "Japan Against the World." It’s more like the world coming to Japan for an exciting visit. If the UFC dotted the main card with the best Japanese fighters -- which taken as a collective, would look like wholesale mediocrity -- it wouldn’t be fit for pay-per-view. And, as Dana White reminds everyone whenever possible, this is pay-per-view business.

Therefore, Frankie Edgar and Quinton Jackson will fetch the PPV buck as the UFC forays into Asia, and the local fighters will try and change a few notions in the relative quiet of their own backyard.

UFC set for return to Japan in 2012

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
5:42
AM ET
By Tony Loiseleur
Sherdog.com
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TOKYO -- Nearly 14 years after its debut in the country, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will finally return to Japan.

In a Tuesday news conference at Shinjuku Wald 9 Theater -- the same locale used to screen UFC Live and Fight Night events on the big screen -- the UFC formally announced their plans to bring the Octagon back to the Land of the Rising Sun on Feb. 26, 2012.

While a November timeframe was announced for card finalization, all of the Japanese fighters currently on Zuffa roster -- presently, Yushin Okami, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Norifumi Yamamoto, Hatsu Hioki, Michihiro Omigawa, Takanori Gomi, Riki Fukuda, and Takeya Mizugaki -- were mentioned as likely participants for the event. The UFC will also be aiming for the heart of major-scale MMA in the country by staging the event at the Saitama Super Arena, frequent home to Dream and the defunct Pride Fighting Championships, which will be scaled to accommodate 20,000 seats.

News of the Japan return was delivered via a recorded video message from UFC President Dana White, who expounded on Japan's role in developing the sport and contributing some of its biggest names in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Dan Henderson, and Mirko Filipovic.

Following White’s address, Zuffa LLC Asia Executive Vice President and Managing Director Mark Fischer addressed those in attendance.

“We want to let everyone know that we will be bringing the same high level of UFC competition, the same world class show and presentation, and great fights and the greatest athletes in the world to Japan.”

A 12-year veteran in spearheading the NBA's expansion in Asia, Fischer noted the economic potential for a UFC Japan show.

“To give another idea of the scope of this event, it will literally be witnessed by millions of fans all over the world,” said Fischer. “Moreover, this event will be a boon for Japan's economy. For example, UFC 100 in Las Vegas generated more than $51 million for the local economy. In Sydney, Australia, our two events generated over $30 million for the local economy. We're pleased to bring the similarly anticipated event to Saitama and the greater Tokyo area.”

Fischer also stated that UFC events in Japan and the Asia region would become regular destinations for the promotion.

“Let me also say that while UFC Japan in 2012 will be the first event for Zuffa in Asia, it certainly won't be the last. We hope to make UFC Japan an annual fixture on our calendar and we also have plans to follow-up with a series of high quality events across Asia,” assured Fischer.

While there were no announcement as to whether the event would be a numbered or “Fight Night” event, it is planned to start in the same Saturday night time slot for Western viewers. Preliminaries are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Japan time, with the main card running from noon to 3 p.m. No details were given as to the event's local broadcast plans.

The UFC’s debut in the country was on December 21, 1997 for the “Ultimate Japan” heavyweight tournament, which saw the UFC debut of Pride legend Kazushi Sakuraba and former UFC light heavyweight champion Frank Shamrock. The SEG-era UFC saw two more events in Japan with UFC 23 and UFC 25, in November 1999 and April 2000 respectively.

Silva-GSP more realistic than ever before

August, 30, 2011
8/30/11
11:43
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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The UFC continues to play it a little bit coy on the topic of a possible superfight between Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre.

In the immediate aftermath of UFC 134, UFC president Dana White once again asserted that he’s interested in making that fight, that his organization’s stellar middleweight and welterweight champions are “both getting into a position here pretty soon” where it will make sense, but reiterated that each still has some business to take care of in his natural weight class first.

In other words, it sounded very similar to the company’s position back in February, when White said he’d consider booking Silva versus St. Pierre if “The Spider” took out Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 and GSP defeated Jake Shields at UFC 129. Obviously, both those victories came and went and a superfight didn’t materialize.

Yet, there is reason to believe UFC matchmakers are finally getting serious about setting up a bout between their two best fighters. Or at least, they should be. Not capitalizing – and capitalizing soon -- on this singular promotional opportunity would be very, very out-of-character for a company that prides itself on, in White’s words, “always delivering.”

Some three days after watching Silva toy with Yushin Okami for seven minutes before calmly dispatching him with strikes to seal his ninth 185-pound title defense and extend his record of consecutive wins in the Octagon to 14, a meeting with St. Pierre should appear more realistic than ever. After all, Silva looked about as dominant as we’ve seen him, St. Pierre is about to meet Nick Diaz in a fight he’s universally expected to win and just a couple of weeks ago the UFC finally landed the lucrative, landmark network television deal it’s been waiting on for years.
[+] EnlargeGeorge St. Pierre
AP Photo/Eric JamisonWelterweight champion Georges St. Pierre seems destined to meet fellow titlist Anderson Silva.

That confluence of factors makes it pretty clear: If the company is ever going book this fight, it needs to do it now.

The UFC knows full well the marketing gold it has here. The chance to have the world’s top two pound-for-pound fighters, a pair of guys who are both on the short list of candidates for “Greatest of All Time,” actually square off is something that could only come around once or twice in a generation. It also knows the shelf life for this fight is not unlimited. Silva versus St. Pierre probably needs to occur by spring 2012 -- when Silva will turn 37 and St. Pierre 31 -- and before either guy loses the glitter of invincibility that currently makes each so compelling.

There are still a couple of hurdles to get over, for sure. It’s still assumed Silva will take on the winner of Chael Sonnen versus Brian Stann at UFC 136, and St. Pierre needs to avoid a letdown against Diaz when they meet in October or November. But if those things happen -- and if both Silva and St. Pierre are game -- the promotion should (and we have to assume it will) put them in a cage together sometime very soon.

Silva-Okami 1 revisited

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
2:04
PM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Yushin Okami stood across the cage from Anderson Silva in 2006 operating under the distinct impression that the lanky Brazilian was beatable.

He was right. And he was wrong.

Given Silva’s extraordinary track record since that ill-fated January evening in Honolulu, the bout against Okami qualifies as one of those rare occurrences over the past five years in which the man standing opposite the pound-for-pound king treated the scenario as something other than a bad omen. Remember, this was Silva two contests removed from the indignity of tapping to a stunning leg attack. A year before Ryo Chonan, Okami watched as his much smaller teammate at the time, Daiju Takase, bagged the South American in a triangle choke.

Though Silva’s confidence post Chonan had been restored in some capacity after violent victories in London over Jorge Rivera and Curtis Stout, he wasn’t regarded anywhere near the threat we know him to be today. And it’s entirely understandable why Okami felt he had a legitimate shot at winning.
[+] EnlargeAnderson Silva
Sherdog.comRespect isn't something Anderson Silva is about to just hand out to Yushin Okami.

Silva, like Okami, was simply attempting to separate himself from the pack back then. And as one of eight established fighters inked to the 175-pound catchweight Rumble on the Rock tournament promoted by BJ Penn’s family, “The Spider” was being afforded that opportunity. Of course, we know he failed to advance beyond the opening round through no one’s fault but his own. As a result, Silva’s brilliant ledger features 30 wins against four losses, even if most observers don’t consider the last setback of his career to be authentic.

During fight week activities, there was a palpable air of confidence and anger surrounding Silva, which was picked up on by Okami and his camp.

“These things kept Yushin in suspense through the fight week,” recalled Okami’s longtime manager, Gen Isono. “When the fight started, it was pretty obvious for me that Yushin was under huge pressure which Anderson was creating.”

For as much as Okami thought he could win, two and a half minutes in the cage together provided plenty of evidence to the contrary. Silva flowed from the opening bell, employing unique footwork to create angles and close distance at his leisure. Okami started slow and was disinclined to trade or go to the floor.

Okami, though, was able to force Silva to his back and sit in the Brazilian’s long guard -- and this is where things went bad. From the bottom, the soon-to-be UFC champion sloppily swung his right leg out and around and slammed the sole of his foot square onto the Japanese fighter’s face. Okami fell backwards, hurt and ripe for punishment had Silva not been restrained by the referee.

“He was in a panic and he believed that he was knocked out by some kind of a punch,” said Isono, who tended to Okami in the cage afterwards. “I explained to Yushin that he had gotten an illegal kick on the ground but I was not sure if he understood what I was saying. I asked him if he could keep fighting but he absent-mindedly said, ‘I have a headache’ several times. I translated what he said to the doctor, then the doctor advised the referee to stop the fight. After going back to the hotel, Yushin kept cooling his head down with some ice, but did not need to go to a hospital.”

Only when the venerable Murilo Bustamante informed his countryman and charge that the up-kick produced a fight-ending foul and was not considered a legal weapon, as it would have been in Pride where Silva pieced together a 3-2 record, the Brazilian came to the stunning realization that he was disqualified.

"I feel it was a cheap, cowardly way of winning," Silva told me two years after fighting Okami on Oahu. "People that were there saw that he was in the condition to come back and keep fighting, and he didn't."

The status of Okami’s health that night is fine to debate of you’re aiming to rehash a discussion that doesn’t mean all that much. There is, however, no ambiguity when it comes to Silva’s disdain for Okami, which manifested itself over the years via outbursts of disrespect mixed with outright dismissiveness.

“We have never insisted that Yushin won the fight,” Isono said. “Yushin has never insisted that he won the fight. We have always admitted that Anderson controlled the fight with a huge pressure until right before the fight ended. We had no choice, the rules decided the winner.”

UFC 134 journal -- Day 2

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
12:57
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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RIO DE JANEIRO -- The sun came out Thursday in Rio, and it finally made those sharp, humpback mountains you see jutting out of the ocean in postcards become visible. For the first time you could observe Sugarloaf Mountain, the most famous of these peaks that sits in Guanabara Bay and on Wednesday was shrouded by cloud cover. The sun also worked against the city’s aesthetics, as it brought out the Speedos in droves on Copacabana Beach. Dennis Hallman was a fight card early, apparently -- in Rio, he’d have been a scoffable cliché. In Philadelphia, he was treated like a flasher who sneaked into the cage. Then again, that was probably the point.

Otherwise, it was your typical day interacting with Rio natives, mixed martial artists and peanut mongers.

9:08 a.m.: Coffee at the Sol Ipanema is for savoring, not guzzling. It’s served in a glass cup with a handle in which the finger hole wouldn’t let a Twizzler through, much less an index finger. The endless cup of coffee that so many northerly Americans prefer is much trickier here. There aren’t any Starbucks that I’ve seen, which makes Rio defiant toward global homogeny. No venti-sized options anywhere, on any menu. The coffeehouses serve little crumpets the size of acorns with the cup, but they don’t come along and freshen anything. If you want more coffee, you pay another 6 real, dude. There’s something ominously leisurely about all of this. I like it, but I yawn a lot as I like it.

9:10 a.m.: What is the protocol for calling yourself an American? I am an American, but so are the cariocas (the people of Rio de Janeiro). I have learned to just say eu nao sou de por aqui, which means “I’m not from around here.” This seems elusive, but at the end of the day it’s as dismissing as beginning a sentence with “At the end of the day …”

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the RedeemerEd Mulholland for ESPN.comTeam ESPN and Team Brazilian MMA Standouts got an up-close look at Christ the Redeemer statue.
9:36 a.m.: A group of journalists, including ESPN.com photographer Ed Mulholland, are currently riding up to view the Christ the Redeemer statue with UFC legend Royce Gracie and Junior dos Santos. That’s some Hunter S. Thompson off-kilter stuff right there. Me? I am writing this journal with no coffee left. They are having a Rio experience, while I’m having something more ... meta. I wish I were they.

12:36 p.m.: Ran into UFC commentator Mike Goldberg, who likes himself some Rio. I asked him whether he’s been here before and he said yes, in 1998, when he visited Sao Paulo. “I came here, too, and went to a party right there at the Copacabana Palace,” he says. “I don’t remember anything about it." He laughs. Sounds like my kind of party, I tell him. He laughs again, this time more suspiciously.

1:39 p.m.: The news conference is at the famed Copacabana Palace of Goldberg’s forgotten night. It is, in fact, palatial. There are more media gathered for this event than just about any other UFC event. The foreigners are easy to spot. They are wearing headsets so that the Portuguese can be translated from a woman in an elevated police booth. This seems like a truly foreign experience. Then again, MMA Junkie’s John Morgan is typing something. This is a sign that everything is as it should be.

2:32 p.m.: The soft blue-hued lighting has given way to a strobe light effect as the panel makes its way to the stage. UFC president Dana White has a headset, and so do all the Americans -- or, I should say, Brendan Schaub, Yushin Okami and Forrest Griffin. The ones who aren’t from around here.

2:36 p.m.: Is it just me, or is the translator/emcee in the police booth trying to seduce everybody in the room? Anderson Silva's usual translator, Ed Soares, doesn’t have anything on this delivery. What Silva is saying is suddenly becoming interesting.
2:56 p.m.: The thing that keeps being brought up is that Silva really became a breakout star in his native Brazil when he front-kicked Vitor Belfort all the way back at UFC 126. The reason? The fight was free in Brazil, while it cost a cool $49.99 in the U.S. This sort of goes against the notion that Silva was a big star down here before 2011. We’d heard many times about how much the middleweight champion was beloved in his native country. Nike and Burger King endorsements I guess helped nudge him toward superstardom, but reports of his transcendence in Brazil going back the mid-aughts seem slightly exaggerated.

3:12 p.m.: Luta livre was the poor man’s discipline back in the day here in Brazil. And jiu-jitsu was more about the aristocrat. They intersected a lot of ground fighting elements. In vale tudo fights, luta livre was obviously advantageous for a smaller competitor. In fact, Robert Leitao preceded Royce Gracie by 20 years and ... oh, look, the news conference is wrapping up.

4:39 p.m.: Just as feared, the surfing lesson at Praia do Arpoador that was to involve featherweight champion Jose Aldo, Gracie, Lyoto Machida, Junior dos Santos and a small parcel of Octagon girls was canceled because of the immense waves. Bodhi from “Point Break” wouldn’t have been able to resist but hey, in lazy fighter vernacular, it is what it is.
[+] EnlargeAnderson Silva
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comTurns out, Anderson Silva isn't as big a hit in his country as we first imagined.
5:18 p.m.: Copacabana Beach. I'm having a coconut husk that has been jack-o-lanterned, which the tourists drink as a natural hangover cure. Being accosted by people hawking Copacabana sarongs, some of them as Brazilian flags. One man is selling fake glasses of beer that look deliciously authentic. He then lunges the glass at passerby and makes them take cover. This is his sales pitch. It doesn’t seem as though he’s moving a lot of pieces.

5:19 p.m.: Flocks of frigates all over the beach, those red-throated seabirds of the pelican family. They enjoy the balmy climes. I also spotted a lavadeira-mascarada, which is a small black and white bird that translates to “masked washerwoman” in English. You don’t see masked washerwomen in the U.S. everyday.

6:00 p.m.: There’s a local Shooto fight card happening, but it’s invitation-only. Some of the media got themselves invited. It has a Fight Club vibe. Photographer Esther Lin is going. I will later see a photograph of her standing between two dudes wielding AK-47s. Needless to say, later I will be kicking myself for not going.

7:58 p.m.: Instead, it’s dinner at the Garota, which means girl. The restaurant name is borrowed from Antonio Carlos Jobim’s famous song “Girl From Ipanema.” This is a misnomer. This place is teeming with men drinking glasses of beer. It’s a carnivores gathering, too. The picanha a Brasileira no rechaud is a sizzling hot plate of thinly sliced top sirloin that people hibachi at their own pace. At first it seems like they are upselling an expensive plate (76 real), but in the end, turns out they are steering people toward a culinary epiphany. Nicely done.

9:13 p.m.: There was supposed to be a UFC media mixer planned for tonight, but just like the surfing lessons, it was canceled. Bummer. The one in Pittsburgh was a hoot with Jim Miller and Clay Guida engaged in a secretly contentious pingpong battle. The phrase you hear a lot in Rio is “organized chaos,” and that holds true in just about everything. No mixer. Eh, at the end of the day, it is what it is.

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