Silva-Okami 1 revisited

Yushin Okami stood across the cage from Anderson Silva in 2006 operating under the distinct impression that the lanky Brazilian was beatable.

He was right. And he was wrong.

Given Silva’s extraordinary track record since that ill-fated January evening in Honolulu, the bout against Okami qualifies as one of those rare occurrences over the past five years in which the man standing opposite the pound-for-pound king treated the scenario as something other than a bad omen. Remember, this was Silva two contests removed from the indignity of tapping to a stunning leg attack. A year before Ryo Chonan, Okami watched as his much smaller teammate at the time, Daiju Takase, bagged the South American in a triangle choke.

Though Silva’s confidence post Chonan had been restored in some capacity after violent victories in London over Jorge Rivera and Curtis Stout, he wasn’t regarded anywhere near the threat we know him to be today. And it’s entirely understandable why Okami felt he had a legitimate shot at winning.

Silva, like Okami, was simply attempting to separate himself from the pack back then. And as one of eight established fighters inked to the 175-pound catchweight Rumble on the Rock tournament promoted by BJ Penn’s family, “The Spider” was being afforded that opportunity. Of course, we know he failed to advance beyond the opening round through no one’s fault but his own. As a result, Silva’s brilliant ledger features 30 wins against four losses, even if most observers don’t consider the last setback of his career to be authentic.

During fight week activities, there was a palpable air of confidence and anger surrounding Silva, which was picked up on by Okami and his camp.

“These things kept Yushin in suspense through the fight week,” recalled Okami’s longtime manager, Gen Isono. “When the fight started, it was pretty obvious for me that Yushin was under huge pressure which Anderson was creating.”

For as much as Okami thought he could win, two and a half minutes in the cage together provided plenty of evidence to the contrary. Silva flowed from the opening bell, employing unique footwork to create angles and close distance at his leisure. Okami started slow and was disinclined to trade or go to the floor.

Okami, though, was able to force Silva to his back and sit in the Brazilian’s long guard -- and this is where things went bad. From the bottom, the soon-to-be UFC champion sloppily swung his right leg out and around and slammed the sole of his foot square onto the Japanese fighter’s face. Okami fell backwards, hurt and ripe for punishment had Silva not been restrained by the referee.

“He was in a panic and he believed that he was knocked out by some kind of a punch,” said Isono, who tended to Okami in the cage afterwards. “I explained to Yushin that he had gotten an illegal kick on the ground but I was not sure if he understood what I was saying. I asked him if he could keep fighting but he absent-mindedly said, ‘I have a headache’ several times. I translated what he said to the doctor, then the doctor advised the referee to stop the fight. After going back to the hotel, Yushin kept cooling his head down with some ice, but did not need to go to a hospital.”

Only when the venerable Murilo Bustamante informed his countryman and charge that the up-kick produced a fight-ending foul and was not considered a legal weapon, as it would have been in Pride where Silva pieced together a 3-2 record, the Brazilian came to the stunning realization that he was disqualified.

"I feel it was a cheap, cowardly way of winning," Silva told me two years after fighting Okami on Oahu. "People that were there saw that he was in the condition to come back and keep fighting, and he didn't."

The status of Okami’s health that night is fine to debate of you’re aiming to rehash a discussion that doesn’t mean all that much. There is, however, no ambiguity when it comes to Silva’s disdain for Okami, which manifested itself over the years via outbursts of disrespect mixed with outright dismissiveness.

“We have never insisted that Yushin won the fight,” Isono said. “Yushin has never insisted that he won the fight. We have always admitted that Anderson controlled the fight with a huge pressure until right before the fight ended. We had no choice, the rules decided the winner.”