The Rear Naked Column 08.27.11: Silva vs. Okami Breakdown
Posted by Samer Kadi on 08.27.2011
For the UFC’s return to Rio, middleweight champion Anderson Silva headlines the card against the last man to beat him, Yushin OKami. Join 411’s Samer Kadi as he breaks down the fight…
When Anderson Silva made his UFC debut against Chris Leben back in 2006, few could have predicted the kind of impact he would have on the world of MMA. After destroying Leben in just 49 seconds, Silva went on to embark on a journey of unparalleled dominance in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. With eight title defenses, thirteen consecutive wins, and not a single blemish inside the Octagon, "The Spider" is indubitably the most successful fighter in the history of the UFC, and arguably the greatest fighter to ever grace the sport.
On the heels of his much publicized stunning win over Vitor Belfort – a bout that received an enormous amount of media attention in Brazil – Silva is an absolute no-brainer to headline the UFC's long awaited return to Rio. Recent high profile sponsorship deals and commercial appearances suggest that Silva is finally turning into a superstar in his home country. With his stock at an all-time high, Silva can ill-afford a mishap in the main event of one of the biggest shows of the year in front of his adoring countrymen. And while defeating the best fighter on the planet in his backyard could well be the most formidable task in the sport, Yushin Okami presents a certain skill-set that might enable him to spoil the champion's big homecoming party.
Officially, toppling Silva is a feat Okami has already been able to accomplish. Reality however, tells a different story, as Okami's disqualification win came after his opponent threw an illegal up-kick that knocked the Japanese fighter silly. Their first encounter was too brief to be telling, and both fighters have improved considerably since. However, despite its insignificance, it does reveal the obvious: Okami will want to put Silva on his back.
In order to do so however, Okami needs to find a way around Silva's ability to control distance. No fighter in MMA understands the concept of distance better than Silva, and that is part of what makes his striking so lethal. The Brazilian's footwork has been a key element to his success, as many have struggled to close in on him and take him down without taking shots in the process. Silva's counter-punching in general, and ability to evade onrushing opponents while simultaneously landing counter-strikes in particular, mean Okami should pick his spots carefully when moving forward in an attempt to secure the crucial takedown.
How Okami decides to approach the bout will be very interesting. While he has a reputation for being a methodical fighter, Okami can occasionally be quite aggressive in his pursuit of the clinch. Which strategy is more appropriate remains a tricky proposition for Okami, as using a deliberate pace means he will be allowing Silva the time to settle into his rhythm, find his range and dictate proceedings by firing off quick jabs and snapping leg kicks. On the other hand, brisker tactics will leave him prone to getting countered. Okami's teammate and the man who gave Silva the scare of his life, Chael Sonnen, took the latter approach as he stayed in Silva's face, kept moving forward, and was relentless with his takedowns. However, Sonnen is a better, faster and more explosive wrestler than Okami, who possesses a much better shot from distance. Unlike Sonnen, Okami does not possess a great power double, and thus can't simply shoot for Silva's legs and plant him on his back. Moreover, one underrated aspect of Sonnen's game is his ability to duck a punch when moving forward and avoid the big shot when he switches levels and transitions into a takedown. Okami is a bit more mechanical with his footwork, head movement, and overall striking defense, and doesn't switch from striking to takedown quite as seamlessly. Therefore, Okami will likely look to do what he always does, and that is to dominate opponents in the clinch.
Predictably rushing forward with little set up will make it very easy for Silva to figure out the pattern, and it won't be too long before he circles out, lands a few quick jabs to the face, and probably taunt Okami afterwards. As such, the challenger needs to use his striking – albeit cautiously – to cover some grounds and close the distance. With the exception of the occasional body kick, Okami's striking mainly consists of a decent jab and a solid left cross behind it. In recent fights, the Japanese star has done an admirable job of being more effective with his striking as he has started doubling up with his jab before firing his power left hand behind it. And yet, whether or not this will be enough to trouble Silva's near-impenetrable defenses is highly questionable.
Better than anyone in the sport, Silva is a master at using his head movement and footwork to avoid damage. In fact, most solid counter-punchers tend to either block and parry incoming strikes (think Quinton Jackson), or use their head movement (BJ Penn). Silva is one of the very few who excel at both. The recent Vitor Belfort bout is a great example, as Silva evaded a Belfort flurry with trademark head movement while simultaneously flicking off Belfort's punches with his hands. Furthermore, Silva possesses the uncanny ability to anticipate and read his opponent's strikes (see the breathtaking sequence against Forrest Griffin), which in large part is what makes him such a deadly counter-striker.
Of course, Silva's striking proficiency isn't limited to being a counter-puncher, or even simply his boxing, as he owns the most versatile striking arsenal out of any mixed martial artist past or present. In addition to it being a great testament to his accuracy, immaculate timing, and understanding of distance, Silva's now infamous front kick knockout of Vitor Belfort best highlights his diversity. He is just as likely to land a kick to the head or a flying knee as he is to catch his opponent with a straight counter left.
It has been a while since the champion's brutal muay Thai clinch was on display, but with Okami's clinch-centric attacks, we may well see a return of the knees that rearranged Rich Franklin's face. That is easier said than done however, as Okami will not present the same deficiencies in that area that "Ace" did. However, it will be vital for Okami to immediately muscle up his foe against the cage once he gets him in that position, as giving Anderson any sort of space in close-quarters will allow him to punish the midsection with his knees before switching to headhunting mode. In order to prevent Silva from establishing any breathing room in order to throw those knees, Okami will need to secure underhooks. Silva's grip strength and overall clinch savvy makes him very dangerous in the over/under battle, as evidenced by his bout with Dan Henderson, where the moment Silva was able to maneuver in the clinch, he quickly wrapped his hands around Hendo's neck and nailed him with a knee that marked the beginning of the end.
Conversely, Silva's takedown defense leaves a lot to be desired, and if Okami gets those double underhooks, or manages to transition into a single, he should be able to take "The Spider" down. Additionally, for a fighter as coordinated as Silva, his balance -- particularly when his opponent is pursuing a takedown -- is quite sub-par by his lofty standards. This problem is also on evidence once Silva is taken down, even against the cage. Unlike someone like Chuck Liddell, Silva lacks the balance to use the fence to wall-walk and regain his vertical base. This almost cost him dearly in the Chael Sonnen fight, as Silva occasionally found himself stuck against the cage, which meant he had no room to work for submissions. In fact, when he was on his back close to the fence, Silva resorted to giving up his back, which he was able to get away with against someone as Jiu-Jitsu deficient as Sonnen. Doing that against a grappler like Okami however, will spell trouble. His inability to scramble up to his feet has historically been a problem for Silva, and Okami is more than capable of holding him down should he get him to the ground. While he will not be able to land the damage that Chael Sonnen did, Okami possesses much better guard-passing.
Anderson Silva's guard and overall bottom game has always been a mixed bag. His hips aren't exactly the most dynamic off of his back, and he doesn't threaten much in terms of sweeps or constant submission attempts. However, he is very opportunistic in that the moment the opportunity arises, he makes the most of it. That was on display in both the Travis Lutter and Chael Sonnen fights. In the case of the former, the moment Lutter got overzealous, Silva caught him with an up-kick and immediately transitioned to a triangle. In Sonnen's case, Silva got wrist control, waited for the right moment, and capitalized on Sonnen's mistake to wrap up the sensational victory. Defensively, when he's not content to get a body triangle to neutralize his opponent, his guard can be quite shaky. Travis Lutter and even Dan Henderson were able to pass Anderson's guard. In fact, Lutter past to mount and had Silva in serious trouble before getting lazy and spinning for a sloppy armbar. What Silva does well however, is land damage from the bottom. Okami knows all too well about Silva's up-kicks, but it is his sharp elbows that he needs to be worried about, as a fight-ending cut will be enough to put a dent in "Thunder's" title aspirations.
Okami, despite his somewhat passive style, is an extremely competent grappler. His guard-passing is better than he's given credit for and his mount control is excellent. On top of that, his submissions aren't non-existent either. In fact, Okami should be able to threaten with key locks and arm triangles, which at the very least, might lead Silva into making a potentially critical mistake.
Okami is durable, well-conditioned and has a clear road to victory (taking Silva to the ground). Those aspects alone mean he has a chance. However, it is simply tough to expect him to pull off what thirteen people before him failed to do. If Okami fights passively and gets frustrated by Silva's footwork, the champion will outpoint him to a somewhat uneventful decision. If he is aggressive, then the safer bet is that he will share a similar fate to many before him, as Silva stops yet another world-class opponent.