Particularly over the last 2-3 years, it's become a real concern for fighters that they not only win, but win big, a factor that both Marquardt and Okami spoke about in the lead-up to their bout in Oberhausen, Germany. But combine the golden carrot being dangled in front of them with their previous histories and sprinkle in the inevitable style clash, and it seems quite possible that the fans will be in for a more entertaining ride than some expect.
You can certainly understand any doubters though. After all, Okami's pace can best be described as "deliberate." The Japanese fighter (25-5 in his career) likes to control a slow tempo, paw at his opponents with his right jab and initiate a clinch to look for the takedown. In this, he can be very predictable, yet somehow, he nearly always manages to hypnotize opponents into following his script.
His takedowns nearly always come from that clinch position, in which he always seems to have the upperhand due to his size, strength and experience. When Okami makes up his mind you're going down, you're usually going down. According to Compustrike, he has landed 20 of 27 takedown tries in his 11 UFC fights.
On the ground, Okami does his best work. He keeps a strong base, exploits openings with punches and elbows, and is capable of passing into dominant positions. He lands about 65 percent of his ground strikes, punches that are easy to score for judges.
So it's clear that Marquardt (30-9-2) is going to have to find a way to stay on his feet. Marquardt's takedown defense is better than his stats indicate. Though his last eight opponents are 8-for-10 against him, the stats are slightly skewed by the UFC 109 match in which Chael Sonnen went 5-for-5 against him.
That essentially means that Marquardt's other seven opponents only tried five takedowns against him, likely dissuaded by his striking.
Okami likely won't be dissuaded though. Marquardt is going to have to value distance and space, and work his way out of clinches to stay on his feet.
In the striking department, Marquardt should enjoy an edge. According to Compustrike, he lands strikes at 54 percent clip, a slightly better rate than Okami's 47 percent. Lately though, he's thrown his punches with more conviction and bad intent. Unlike Okami, who has been to decisions in six of his last eight UFC fights, Marquardt has finished four of his last five, with his only loss coming against Sonnen in a fight where he out-damaged Sonnen but was out-controlled en route to a decision.
It was a decided shift in strategy for Marquardt, who has talked about the transformation of going for it and leaving no regrets behind him, win or lose.
So the question becomes if Marquardt follows that same pattern against the usually suffocating Okami, and if so, whether he will be able to land anything of consequence.
Marquardt can pull Okami out of his comfort zone by setting a rapid pace, and that's likely exactly what he intends to do. There's never been any question about Okami's conditioning, but few have pressed him the way Marquardt probably will.
Both men are durable enough that a finish seems unlikely to occur. That doesn't mean it won't be exciting though. Okami-Marquardt might possibly look something like Sonnen-Marquardt, with short bursts of explosive action stemming from Marquardt followed by Okami looking to slow things down by clinch work and takedowns. There's only one difference, and it's that Okami is not quite the wrestler that Sonnen is, so the periods of standup might be longer.
There's one more thing to remember here: both men have fallen short before when it counted. Okami could've won a title shot years ago at UFC 72 but lost to Rich Franklin. He built his way back up and then fell again, this time to Sonnen. Now comes this fight. Marquardt, meanwhile, lost in a title match against Anderson Silva, then lost the previously mentioned No. 1 contenders fight with Sonnen.
After failing in previous opportunities and with so with so much at stake, I expect the two men to fight like this is their last chance at glory. Okami is good enough to put this one on the upset radar. Marquardt is about a 2-to-1 favorite, and this is more of a pick'em fight, but I'm expecting Marquardt to stuff enough takedowns and stay up long enough to win rounds. Marquardt via a close decision.