Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sometimes being good is not good enough


The recent disclosure that Chael Sonnen failed his post-fight drug test after his UFC 117 fight with Anderson Silva has not only thrown a monkey wrench into the UFC's middleweight (185lbs.) title picture, but it has had a tremendous trickle down effect. Sadly, the one that is getting screwed once again is the one that should be benefiting, Yushin 'Thunder' Okami (pictured @ left).

Okami (25-5, 9 KO's 4 subs) is currently 9-2 over 11 fights in the UFC. In that stretch, he's garnered wins over such contenders as Alan Belcher, Mike Swick and former champion the late great Evan Tanner and rising contender Mark Munoz. He's had separate winning streaks of four fights and three fights and his only losses were to former champion Rich Franklin and number one contender, the aforementioned Sonnen. So, why no title fight in that period?

Simple, Okami's good, but sometimes being good is not good enough. He has fallen into the category of a winner, but not a sexy winner. In other words, like Big Daddy Kane, "he gets the job done," but he does it in a workmanlike fashion. In those nine wins, only either KO or submission won four, the other five went to a decision, including his two losses. Step in Vitor Belfort.

Belfort, AKA 'The Phenom', is (19-8, 13 KO's 2 subs) and although he is somewhat of a pioneer in the UFC and a former champion himself, even at his young age of 33, he has had only one fight in his latest run within the organization. That fight, which took place over a year ago against the aforementioned Franklin, wasn't even at middleweight, but at a catch weight of 195lbs. So why is Belfort named the replacement for Sonnen against Silva in Silva's next title defense on New Year's Day instead of Okami?

Let me preface my response by saying I am a huge Vitor Belfort fan and I, like most including UFC President Dana White, feel like a Belfort/Silva match-up could be dynamite. That said, what's right is right. Okami deserves this shot before Belfort and he's deserved it for awhile now.

At the time he fought and defeated Swick for his fourth win in a row, Swick himself was riding a five-fight win streak. It was all but a given that the winner of that fight would get a title shot, at least that's what we thought. I think Dana White and the UFC brass were hoping and assuming Swick would win, which would've set-up, a fight against Silva between two slick strikers. Sadly, they didn't realize Okami was out to win, which he did.

Yet, instead of giving Okami the title shot he deserved, they decided he would have to prove himself yet again, this time against former champion Franklin who had already been decimated once by Silva. This time, to the satisfaction of the UFC, Okami lost. However, the rematch they ended up putting together between Frankin and Silva turned out to be as one-sided as their first fight.

In the meantime Okami pressed on. He'd win three more fights in a row, but instead of giving him the title shot he once again earned, they made him fight Sonnen who was (1-1) at the time in his latest UFC run. Again, Okami would lose a decision, while Sonnen would go on to defeat Nate Marquardt and earn the title shot @ UFC 117.

Now, Okami, riding another two fight win streak, was slated to headline UFC 122 in November against Belfort, while Sonnen was getting an immediate rematch against Silva. However, Sonnen's failed test has forced the UFC's hand. Thus, the Belfort/Silva match in January; meanwhile Okami is left to prove himself, yet again against another title contender in Marquardt.

I know when it comes to selling tickets; it's about putting together exciting fights that fans want to see. However, if you're not going to acknowledge or reward fighters such as Okami, welterweight contender Jon Fitch, winner of his last five fights, or lightweight contender George Sotiropoulos, who has won seven in a row, then why bother to keep them on your roster? The only way they'll ever get title opportunities is to absolutely force the UFC's hand by continuing to win, which Fitch has done once already.

I am far from an Okami homer, but the fact is the guy is a great fighter who just keeps winning. On top of that, lately his game has shown flashes of improvement and excitement in both his stand-up and wrestling along with being the consummate company man. Bottom line, the guy is good and deserves a shot, but sometimes being good is not good enough.

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