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Yushin Okami Says He's Going to Take Anderson Silva's Aura, Win UFC Title

More and more, it seems like the proposed superfight between reigning champions Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre will not happen. After St-Pierre's title defense on Saturday night, UFC president Dana White seemed more interested in seeing the welterweight king next defend his belt against Nick Diaz. But even before that, there had already been another obstacle placed in its path: Yushin Okami.

The longtime UFC middleweight star had for months been engaged in a waiting game. After beating Nate Marquardt last November, he had been promised an opportunity to fight for the title, but when White sheepishly asked Okami to simply bide his time while the UFC figured out its next move, the future date seemed more of an open-ended question than an iron-clad lock. Yet just two weeks before St-Pierre was to defend his belt and set up the dream match, the UFC surprised many by announcing that Silva-Okami would take place in Rio at UFC 134.

Almost five years to the day of his UFC debut, Okami will finally have his chance to win gold. The moment comes during a time of national crisis in his home country of Japan. Though Okami lives in Tokyo, over 200 miles from the epicenter of destruction in the northern prefectures, it's still close enough to feel the impact of the devastation that occurred. Because of it, he believes that winning a championship would have an impact in Japan that goes far beyond the MMA community.

"Winning the championship will be proof that an Asian can stand on top of the heavyweight contact sports world," Okami told MMA Fighting in an interview conducted via email. "I believe that can also give strength to everyone in Japan and Asia.

"I hope the people of Japan will feel joy by seeing me fight and seeing me become the champion," he continued.

In a parallel storyline, Silva will also likely be a rallying point in his home country of Brazil, when he becomes the first native-born son ever to defend a UFC championship in the nation that helped give rise to MMA.

Even with greater meaning behind it, the fight has deep personal significance to both combatants because of their previous, shared history. Back in January 2006, the two fought, and Okami was declared the winner via disqualification after an illegal upkick left him unable to continue. Okami said he does not think the kick was intentional, saying Silva "simply reacted" to the moment. Still, the controversial loss remains the last time Silva has been defeated; he's since won 14 in a row and is considered by many the greatest pound-for-pound fighter alive.

According to many, Silva still holds anger about the way the fight finished. He's publicly stated that Okami could have continued and chose not to. Okami, though, is not wasting any time or energy on Silva's theories.

"It doesn't matter what he thinks," he said. "All I think about is defeating Anderson."

Still, Okami (26-5) admits that the history between them is likely to offer Silva the same extra motivation in training as it offers him.

Despite Silva's 14-fight win streak, some of his recent performances have been a bit uneven. In his last fight, he scored a highlight-reel, front kick knockout ("simply fantastic," Okami says). Against Chael Sonnen, things did not come so easily. Silva trailed for four-and-a-half rounds before escaping with a win on a pulse-pounding late submission. And in previous fights against Demian Maia and Thales Leites, Silva has looked downright bored while cruising to decision wins.

Okami has always relied on patient striking and well-timed takedowns, making his style a good possibility to give Silva fits, much the same way Sonnen did.

"Of course Chael's fight does give me some hints, but I am a different person and therefore it will be a different fight," he said.

Okami concedes that the takedown and ground game will be at least one key factor of the fight, and promises that he won't give the champion the space or time to dance on the outside as he's done to past opponents.

"I will guarantee that he will not be bored when fighting me," he said.

As if his task isn't difficult enough, the southpaw will be charged with having to defeat Silva in his home country. Should he win, it would make the victory even sweeter. Okami says that he's always dreamed of becoming the UFC champion, and to do it, he will have to unseat the longest-reigning titleholder in promotional history.

So, to recap, Silva has defended the belt eight times, won 14 straight, finished 12 of those bouts, and is considered the pound-for-pound king. He's also going to be out for revenge against the last man who beat him, while fighting on his home turf.

It's already a lot to overcome without the pressure of the extra storylines, but Okami says he won't let the enormity of the moment get to him. Nor will he let Silva get in his head. After all, he's stared him in the eye once before. Unlike most who have faced Silva during this streak, this will not be a new experience for him. A winner of 10 of his 12 UFC bouts, and with consecutive victories over Nate Marquardt and Mark Munoz propelling him forward, Okami isn't about to be overwhelmed by a champion who often seems like he's won even before he enters the cage.

"My opponent is the champion Anderson, the fight is in Brazil, and I am the challenger. I'd say that the table has been set," he said.

"He's got an aura that intimidates any opponent. I'm going to take that aura away from him."

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