I'm late, late, late on this one. I know. I'm the same guy who still has his "Bush-Cheney '04" sticker displayed on his Walkermobile.
Allow me to be the last person on the planet to weigh in on this topic, yeah? That’s just how I roll.
When the UFC released veteran middleweight standout Yushin Okami, two thoughts simultaneously entered my brain. The first was "This makes sense". The second was "I hate the fact that this makes sense".
Yushin compiled a 12-5 record inside the UFC, and made a reputation for himself as one of those guys you didn’t want to fight, someone who sent men reeling back to the proverbial drawing board. One of those momentum killer types.
But he’s no longer a UFC employee. After turning in an apocalypse of a performance against Anderson Silva and going 3-3 in his last six fights, the UFC saw him fit for release into the MMA wild. And I understand their reasons why. I just don’t agree with them.
There are lots of dubious details to this and any other relatively high profile Zuffa firing, but one fascinated me more than usual. Dana White’s take was basically that they cut Yushin because he became a "gatekeeper".
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this is a bad thing. You say you’re a good middleweight? You want to fight for a title soon? I want to see if you can beat Yushin Okami. Simple as that. The UFC motif is that, hey, if we hire you, your goal should be to be the best in your weight class. But if you get to a point where you’re clearly one of the best, but failed to BEAT the best, that somehow makes you expendable.
This logic falls flatter than The Situation at the Trump Roast. If you rise up through the ranks but fail at the highest level, one of two things will happen. The first is that you completely fall off a cliff and start losing fights, big time. In this case, your release from the promotion makes complete sense. If Yushin Okami had lost to Anderson, then Tim Boetsch (which he did … yeah, but still), and THEN Buddy Roberts AND Alan Belcher, it no longer matters what he did to get that title shot. He’s losing fights, and he’s taking up a roster spot that a younger, less experienced guy could prosper from. Axe him. Cool.
The second thing that happens has happened to a number of guys (Rich Franklin, Urijah Faber, Kenny Florian, Jon Fitch etc.), which is that you keep competing at a high level and consistently winning your way into contention, but you’re still coming up short against the best of the best. Sure, you might get thrown a bone every once in awhile (perennial lightweight standout Jim Miller is fighting Fabricio friggin’ Camoes at UFC 168, and Okami was spoon fed Buddy Roberts, though he did come in on short notice), but overall, you’re fighting the best fight in and fight out.
When you enter this space, the logic seems to be that, if you resonate with fans and are the proverbial "company man" (i.e. saving the UFC by taking a main event fight on short notice, and other acts of grace), the UFC will keep finding you fights. Okami (and Jon Fitch before him) went 1 for 2 based on that criteria, and this is a big reason he was cut.
I don’t mind keeping a guy like him around as long as he doesn’t fall off the aforementioned cliff. I know it’s card space, and I know you’re paying him a relatively handsome sum, but I’d rather pay Yushin Okami $60,000 to lose than Adam Cella $6,000 to lose. Stop giving every single Ultimate Fighter castoff a chance, and you wont have to cut guys like Okami.
(I know how uneducated and simplistic this must sound. Believe me. Call this an idealistic approach to Yushin Okami’s release, not a business savvy one.)
Remember when the Ultimate Fighter started, and the idea was that the winner (and only the winner) would get a UFC contract? Well, Bonnar and Griffin put on their entertaining slopfest, Dana White decided to give both of them contracts, and next thing you know, he was handing out contracts like an intoxicated Isiah Thomas. Fedor Emelianenko never fought in the UFC, but Roli Delgado did. Incredible.
I’m probably biased. I like watching the guy fight, and the fact that his next fight is probably going to happen with Bas Rutten commentating is a bummer.
The silver lining? Okami is going to MURDER Dave Branch.