The UFC has always made sure to bring solid fights to the prestigious Saitama Super Arena. Well, Friday night that run will come to an end, as the promotion will host possibly one of the worst cards of the year in the famous Japanese arena. UFC Japan, or UFC Fight Night 117, is being headlined by a last-minute light heavyweight matchup between Ovince Saint Preux and Yushin Okami. Despite the lack of stardom in the card, UFC Japan hosts some noteworthy action, as it features a fight between top strawweight contenders Claudia Gadelha and Jessica Andrade, the debut of kickboxing star Gokhan Saki, and an important flyweight bout in Jussier Formiga vs. Ulka Sasaki.
What: UFC Japan (UFC Fight Night 117)
Where: Saitama Super Arena, Saitama, Japan.
When: Friday, Sept. 22. The four-fight FXX preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the six-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET also on FXX.
Ovince Saint Preux vs. Yushin Okami
So we’re not getting Ovince Saint Preux vs. ‘Shogun’ Rua 2, but we are getting a very odd, and in some weird way intriguing fight between Saint Preux and late replacement Yushin Okami.
Saint Preux has shown a good deal of promise, but has failed to maintain consistency in his UFC career, compiling a record of 8-5. It’s hard to gauge what version of Saint Preux we will get here. But for the most part, we can expect a well-rounded fighter with dangerous striking. Saint Preux has really good takedowns, a dominant top game, heavy ground-and-pound, and good submissions. However, for some reason, Saint Preux doesn’t really utilize his solid ground game.
Okami is a seasoned veteran that has seen it all in MMA. The Japanese fighter has been known for being dominant in the clinch and strong with his wrestling. Okami also has good striking, but has a very low output, which tends to be a detriment.
I find this fight to be one of the easier picks of the card. Saint Preux is a huge light heavyweight, and Okami has been fighting at welterweight for the past three years. Okami is not the powerhouse he once was and that was one of the main attributes that made him successful. Not being dangerous on the feet and not having a ground game that doesn’t rely on strength, I think Okami will get beat by Saint Preux anywhere the fight goes. Saint Preux should have an edge in all areas of the fight.
Pick: Saint Preux
I’m not entirely sure why this bout didn’t get promoted to the main event when ‘Shogun’ Rua was forced to withdraw from the card. Claudia Gadelha vs. Jessica Andrade is a very high-profile bout in the women’s 115-pound division.
Gadelha is arguably the best fighter in the division not named Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Gadelha is a powerhouse at 115 pounds, and she possesses the best and most dominant ground game in the division. Apart from being a very advanced grappler, Gadelha is also a good striker. The Brazilian is extremely athletic and seems to have solved her cardio issues that stopped her from defeating the champ Jedrzejczyk.
Andrade is another powerhouse at strawweight, and I’m really curious to see who will be the stronger fighter. Andrade also has takedowns in her arsenal, and a very good ground game. But perhaps, her most dangerous attribute is her wild and powerful striking. Andrade overwhelms many of her opponents with hard hooks to the body and head very much like Wanderlei Silva used to do in Pride FC.
This should be a very exciting bout with a great display of skill. Andrade is definitely a game fighter here, but I find Gadelha to be significantly more polished on her striking and grappling technique. I see Andrade having some good moments, but I think ultimately Gadelha will do enough to best the former title challenger in a decision.
This bout has to be a do-or-die for Takanori Gomi. And whether it’s a farewell or a turnaround for the Japanese fighter, there is no better place for it than the Saitama Super Arena.
The former Pride FC lightweight champion has lost his four last outings - all in the first round. At 38 years of age, it’s hard to imagine a turnaround or a revival in his career. Yet, Gomi still remains a somewhat dangerous fighter, as he possesses a good amount of knockout power paired with unorthodox striking. Gomi is also extremely experienced. On the other hand, Dong Hyun Kim is a durable fighter with a well-rounded set of skills. Kim is not extremely good at anything, but can fight almost anywhere. The 29-year-old likes to brawl and has the chin and the power to be able to be successful at it.
This is actually one of the most favorable matchups Gomi has had in recent years. Kim tends to keep his chin up in the air and doesn’t really have great head movement. There’s definitely a possibility of Gomi connecting a big shot and finishing the fight. However, those chances are likely low, as Kim is the quicker, younger, and more durable fighter. A small part of me thinks Gomi will rise to the occasion here, but the reality is that Kim will likely land first and put away the Japanese legend.
Gokhan Saki vs. Henrique da Silva
Kickboxing legend Gokhan Saki will be resuming his one-fight MMA career by taking on Henrique da Silva in a light heavyweight contest.
There is no doubt who will have the edge here on the feet as Saki is one of the best strikers in the world. Saki uses a diverse striking arsenal that attacks the head, body and legs. Having fought basically most of his career under kickboxing rules, Saki is not likely to be skilled grappling. I’ve tried looking for footage of his lone MMA bout, or anything that involves him and the grappling arts, but haven’t been successful. It’s unknown how capable Saki is on the ground.
Da Silva is a good striker with a solid chin. The Brazilian is also skilled on the ground, having decent takedowns and good all-around grappling. Da Silva’s downfall has been his cardio. Once tired, da Silva’s skill level and defense significantly drops.
Not knowing how good Saki is in the grappling department makes this bout almost impossible to predict. My guess is that Saki is good enough to at least overcome the early storm and take over once da Silva is tired.
After a solid start in the UFC, Teruto Ishihara will now be attempting to bounce back from a two-fight skid.
Ishihara, regarded on of the best Japanese prospects around, is an unorthodox striker that likes to use a lot of movement and attack his opponents at odd angles. Ishihara is pretty athletic and moves light on his feet. His ground game is not the best, but it’s certainly not bad either. Ishihara’s grappling is always improving, training with Team Alpha Male. Meanwhile, Rolando Dy is a tough opponent with a well-rounded game. Dy has some submissions in his game and can threaten on the feet.
This should be a showcase fight for Ishihara. I don’t believe Dy presents a huge problem for Ishihara on the ground, and on the feet, Ishihara has better movement and a higher striking output.
I think this bout has the potential of being one of the better fights of the card. It may not be a wild brawl, but this could definitely turn into a fun, back-and-fourth grappling contest.
Jussier Formiga has been one of the top flyweights in the world for many years now. I’m a little surprised he hasn’t been able to challenge for the title. Formiga is very good in every area of the fight game. The Brazilian has quick, technical boxing with good footwork. He’s also a extremely talented on the ground, as he has a solid top game, a crafty guard, and an excellent back take. Formiga is also a solid athlete with a good amount of experience fighting elite competition. The only fighters the 31-year-old Formiga has lost to in his UFC career have all been title challengers.
Ulka Sasaki is a very unique fighter. He stands at 5 feet 10 inches tall and somehow manages to make the 125-pound weight limit. With his frame, Sasaki might not carry tons of power, but he does have range in his striking and leverage in his grappling.
I don’t see how Formiga can lose this bout. Formiga is far more advanced than Sasaki in both the striking and grappling areas. Sasaki’s biggest tool is his slick and crafty ground game, but Formiga is one of the most technical grapplers in MMA. I see this being a dominant victory for the Brazilian.