Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011 | 2:10 a.m.
Rarely are two fighters in a championship bout out to win for a completely different cause.
The scope of their desire usually begins and ends with a UFC belt. But UFC President Dana White gets a different feeling from the two men set to square off for the middleweight title in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Rio card.
“Anderson Silva is fighting for his legacy,” White said. “Yushin Okami is fighting for respect.”
The idea doesn’t sound far-fetched. Silva (30-4 MMA, 13-0 UFC) holds almost every notable UFC record and is the man White calls “the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.”
At this point, not many people are lining up to disagree with White. Okami (26-5 MMA, 10-2) has achieved enough in the sport to secure his spot as one of the best middleweights ever.
But hardly anyone will mention his name in that conversation. Okami’s most notable victory is a highly disputed one — a 2006 win via disqualification over Silva at a Rumble on the Rock event.
Silva threw an illegal up kick from bottom position when the fight went to the ground to knock Okami out in the first round and suffer the disqualification. On multiple occasions when someone has asked Silva about the defeat, he’s responded by saying some version of, “just to correct you, I did not lose.”
Although it’s the only negative mark on his record from the past six years, Silva never expressed interest in a facing Okami again. He had moved on to bigger fights.
“I didn’t expect a rematch before a rematch was made,” Silva said.
Even after Okami earned a shot at Silva’s title with a victory in a No. 1 contenders fight over Nate Marquardt at UFC 122, White made it sparkling clear that the bout may never happen. Earlier this year, White said Okami would have to forfeit his top contender status if Georges St. Pierre decided to move to middleweight and challenge Silva in a pound-for-pound mega fight.
There simply wasn’t much interest in a Silva vs. Okami fight. It’s a fact that had to bother Okami, who has spent almost a year preparing for his chance at UFC glory.
Okami even left his home in Kanagawa, Japan, to train in Portland, Ore., with Chael Sonnen and Team Quest. Sonnen is the only man in the UFC who truly came close to beating Silva before succumbing to a fifth round submission loss at UFC 117.
“He knows what kind of fighter Anderson is,” Okami said through a translator, “so I’m training with him and I’m talking with him.”
Is beating Silva the only way Okami could ever become a household name in the UFC? White seems to think so.
“In my opinion, Yushin Okami is the best fighter to ever come out of Japan,” White said. “This guy didn’t come up fighting cans and get this built-up, mythological record. This guy has been fighting the best for years and I’m sure he feels and a lot of people feel he hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves.”
The marketing before their bout likely hasn’t made Okami feel any better, as Silva has commanded all the publicity. White said it was an easy decision to put Silva, one of the most popular non-soccer athletes in his home country, in a headliner role in the promotion’s first trip to Brazil in nearly 13 years.
Rio de Janeiro is a perfect location for Silva to further build his aura — one that Okami seems so far away from.
“Okami is a good fighter, and a fight is a fight,” Silva said. “Can Okami win? Maybe, I don’t know but I promise I’m ready for the fight.”