I'm going to make two predictions.
1. Yushin Okami
won't get the next middleweight title shot.
2. Chael Sonnen
I know the UFC promised that the winner of the UFC 122
fight between Okami and Nate Marquardt
would be promised the next spot in line. And to his credit, UFC president Dana White said after the event that he'd follow through on that promise. I just think that sometime soon, he'll reconsider the decision. And when he does, there will only be one direction to go.
Why will he reconsider his decision? First, I doubt that anyone in the UFC that watched Okami defeat Marquardt by decision was blown away by the performance. And second, most fans didn't walk away thinking, "Wow, I can't wait to see Okami fight for the belt!" Most fans just walked away.
Look, we all understand that this is a sport, and that winning has to mean something. And Okami has unquestionably been a winner in his UFC career. He's 10-2 in his octagon fights, and that's nothing to dismiss. To deny that is an excellent record would be sheer lunacy. But let's look at another relevant fact, and that's this: beating Marquardt means he's on a three-fight win streak.
That's it, three victories.
He hasn't won six or seven in a row. He's not blowing away his opponents or embarrassing the division. It's a three-fight win streak. Do you know how many fighters in the UFC have win streaks of three fights or more?
Here's a partial list:
Brendan Schaub, Matt Hamill, Jon Madsen, Jim Miller, Rick Story, Phil Davis, Johny Hendricks, Jim Miller, CB Dollaway, Melvin Guillard.
All fighters with three fight win streaks, yet not one is in the title picture in their respective divisions. Not one has a chorus of fans demanding they fight for a belt.
You might say, "Well, Okami's more established than all those guys." True enough, but then I'd let you know that Matt Hughes, Chris Lytle, George Sotiropoulos, Jon Fitch, Carlos Condit, and Ryan Bader also have streaks of three wins or more. None of them are fighting for a title either.
"None of those guys are middleweights," you might counter. But even in Okami's own division, Chris Leben, Jorge Rivera, Gerald Harris and Alessio Sakara can all claim three-fight streaks.
I could go on, but the point is that a three-fight win streak alone does not entitle anyone to fight for a championship.
This is no diss on Okami's talents. Anyone who puts together a 26-5 record absolutely has skills, and a win over Marquardt -- however inartistic it might be -- is still a feather in his cap, but since his last loss, his three wins aren't exactly highlight-reel worthy. In his comeback win, he scored a TKO over Lucio Linhares, an opponent that was out of the UFC less than four months later. Against a higher-caliber opponent in Mark Munoz, he eked out a split decision. And against Marquardt, he did enough to win, no more, no less.
Fans didn't need to walk away with their jaws hanging, but they at least needed to walk away believing that the guy is legitimately the next best middleweight in the world behind the two fighting for the belt. I'm not sure that's the case.
Here's why I think Sonnen gets bumped ahead.
Yes, he's facing a possible suspension after a pre-fight drug test showed elevated levels of testosterone in his sytem. His hearing will take place in December. By that time, he'll already have served four months of any suspension. If the California state athletic commission reduces the penalty to between 6-9 months -- a possibility, though no sure thing -- Sonnen could be ready to fight again by May or June.
With the Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort fight set for February, that timeline would fit perfectly for the winner to get a 3-4 month break before a fight with Sonnen.
Regardless of Sonnen's guilt or innocence, he put on an entertaining fight to follow a great promotional build. Many people believe he'd beat Anderson Silva given another chance. Many others think he'd have a good chance against Belfort by putting the striker on his back. It may not be politically correct to leapfrog a fighter coming off a suspension over anyone, but even if you look at it from a sporting perspective, Sonnen holds a head's up win over Okami. He wins in entertainment value and performance.
Okami won his fight with Marquardt, and that should be its own reward. A three-fight win streak has never made anyone a lock for a title shot. If the UFC follows through and gives him a chance to fight for the belt, they should be saluted for following through on their word. With all due respect to a solid fighter, it's probably a little bit more than he deserves right now.