UFC Saitama: Yushin Okami vs. Ovince Saint Preux Preview

UFC Saitama Ovince St. Preux
Credit: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com

UFC Saitama will feature the return of an iconic veteran as Yushin Okami steps up to take on Ovince Saint Preux in Japan.

The trend of late changes to marquee matches in the UFC shows no signs of slowing down as the year continues to roll on.  What was expected to be a rematch between living legend Shogun Rua and Ovince Saint-Preux will now feature the return of Japanese veteran Yushin Okami.  After more than three years out of the UFC, “Thunder” will be making his return to the Octagon in front of his native fans.

The last time many fans saw Okami, he was stopped in the first round by “Jacare” Souza in 2013.  Then he found himself on the unemployment line. The news was surprising as Okami was 3-1 in his last four fights when the UFC announced that he had been released from the promotion.  At the time, Dana White said that it was because Okami had become a gatekeeper.  He stated

“It’s time for Yushin Okami to go out and test himself outside of the UFC, get some wins and maybe come back.  [He] had every opportunity in the world, taking on all the best. He even got a title shot and didn’t win. It is what it is. It’s no different than the NFL, soccer or any other sport.”

Okami would go on to sign with the World Series of Fighting, becoming a huge free agent signing for the fledgling promotion.  He would struggle, going 1-2 with losses coming to Jon Fitch and David Branch.  Now in his mid 30s, it had appeared as if Okami would fade into obscurity for the rest of his career.  An unfortunate circumstance as for many years he was known for having the last victory over Anderson Silva, albeit by Disqualification.

Instead, his career found new legs in 2016 as he put together a four fight win-streak.  Among them, a New Year’s Eve victory over UFC and Bellator veteran Paul Bradley.  Most recently, he fought at the end of July where he defeated unknown Andre Lobato.

Okami now steps up on short notice to take on light-heavyweight stand out Ovince Saint-Preux.  “OSP” has excelled in his UFC career since Okami made his exit.  The former football player has had 13 fights in the Octagon since 2013, including high profile matches against Jon Jones, Glover Teixeira, Shogun Rua, and Ryan Bader.

His biggest victory to date was his victory over Shogun in 2014 in 30 seconds.  However, he failed to convert that victory into a title run.  In 2016 he went on a three-fight skid, starting with an unexpected interim title opportunity against Jones and followed up by back-to-back knockouts to Jimi Manuwa and Volkan Oezdemir.

Most recently, he got back on track with a victory over Marcos Rogério de Lima in February.  Notably, he secured his second Von Flue Choke.  “OSP” is the only fighter to ever record a Von Flue Choke in the UFC and now has two of them on his resume.

While Saint-Preux was preparing to take on a resurgent Shogun, he now has a very different opponent in Okami.  Shogun is a striker who will look to use his muay-thai to chop away at OSP for five rounds.  In Okami, he now faces a wrestler known for using brutal ground-and-pound.

In favor of the American is the fact that Okami is moving up to light-heavyweight for the opportunity with a little over a week’s notice.  It can be assumed that Okami is not cutting too much weight to make the limit, however OSP has had several weeks to get into top physical condition.  The x-factor will be the reception of the Japanese fans who will be heavily in favor of Okami.  While it is not Saint-Preux’s first foray into enemy territory, he will be competing in the arena famous for holding Pride’s biggest matches.

Stylistically, OSP has an inch of height and five in reach over his opponent.  He will look to keep Okami at the end of his strikes, using his explosiveness to make him hesitant to close the distance.  Saint-Preux is also an experienced wrestler and with his size will have an easier time getting the dominant position in the clinch.

For Okami, the key will be to use a sharp jab to raise Saint-Preux’s guard and set up a takedown.  OSP will be at his most dangerous in the first round when he’s the most explosive so Okami will have to be very disciplined with his defense early.  That said, if he can get Saint-Preux’s respect on the feet, it will be easier for him to get the takedown and hold a dominant top position.  Due to his size disadvantage, Okami should focus on maintaining top position at all cost.  He should look to do as much damage as possible with ground-and-pound.  While Okami will be the fighter looking to go to the ground, he should avoid trying to secure a submission unless he has a thoroughly dominant position.

While size and preparation fall heavily in favor of OSP, the benefit and motivation of being back in the Octagon in Japan can’t be underestimated.  For OSP, a victory allows him to continue to work his way back into the division’s elite.  For Okami, a triumphant return would usher in a redemptive chapter to an already incredible MMA career.  At the site of some of Japan’s most memorable battles, it has all the ingredients to be a show stopper.