RIO DE JANEIRO -- UFC 134’s main and co-main events are as much rematches as asterisked grudge matches. Technically speaking, Yushin Okami has a victory over Anderson Silva, but it’s the kind you can’t celebrate because -- just like anything that begins with “technically speaking” -- it’s not exactly literal. He didn’t win so much as the thing was abruptly discontinued after Silva’s illegal upkick. That worked out to be more buzz kill than triumph.
The thing is, neither man came away feeling good from 2006’s Rumble on the Rock. Silva has rattled off so many wins since then that you’d need a scroll to read them all (14). Okami hasn’t done bad either, but there are just three Japanese media outlets in Rio to cover his big title shot. This tells you something about the “best fighter to come out of Japan’s” mojo and why it took all this time to get back together with Silva. If Chael Sonnen hadn’t had the travails he did, it’s likely Okami would still be waiting.
Meanwhile, Forrest Griffin welcomed Mauricio Rua to the UFC back in 2007 when Rua was Jon Jones. Rua was so good in Pride that the word "invincible" was getting flung around pretty loosely. Griffin? Nobody was giving him a chance. He was game, but he wasn’t the guy who was supposed beat “Shogun,” who’d won eight in a row heading into that fight (and seven of those were KO/TKO finishes). That night, when Griffin did his victory lap after choking out Rua, it was either fairy tale stuff (we’ve underrated Griffin all this time) or a big stage fluke (“exposed” is the common hater’s refrain) -- or both (Rua was fighting with his gas light on from the first round on, meant as an excuse and an accusation). Either way, UFC 76 is a lasting image that Rua would like to erase.
So after years of "what ifs" and "could’ve beens," here we are with two matchups that could use some resolution. For Silva-Okami, a definitive stamp. For Rua-Griffin, some myth-busting finality. Will we get it? Chances are, we will.
Shake the rafters
If the open workouts on a soggy, gray afternoon on Copacabana Beach are any indication, the HSBC Arena is going to be loud on Saturday night. More than a thousand fans came together to make a lot of noise for middleweight champion Anderson Silva as he hit some mitts. Most media point to Georges St. Pierre’s walkout for his fight with Matt Serra at UFC 83 as the loudest moment in UFC history. Will the main event at UFC 134 approach those decibel levels? Maybe. There is a lot of passion for Silva ever since he knocked out Vitor Belfort on free Brazilian television.
But Okami, who will take on Silva in front of 18,000 throaty partisans, isn’t that worried about the atmosphere.
“I am used to fighting in hostile territory, so I feel comfortable,” he told ESPN.com via his translator/coach Gen Isono.
He’s got a point. Okami did beat Mark Munoz in his hometown of San Diego not all that long ago.
Forrest Griffin on tough home crowds
Forrest Griffin joked about being heckled when he gets home after a loss: “Winning a fight’s a lot better than losing. Then I’ll get to go home and get a lot less stupid questions. ... So it’s win/win.”
So, how does Yushin Okami beat the Spider, you ask? “I’m going to make Anderson Silva miserable. I’m going to be in his face and I’m going to smash him,” Okami told ESPN.com. And if the fight is on the feet for five rounds against one of the game’s most precise strikers? “I’m going to be comfortable against Anderson standing," he said, "and I think I can beat him up there as well.”
Optimism is good.
There were those in the media fishing for information on who would be next for the middleweight title shot, and one reporter rolled out two names for UFC President Dana White at the UFC 134 newser -- Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson.
“Chael Sonnen has a fight in Houston before we can make that decision,” he said. “And did you ask about Dan Henderson, with Strikeforce? And the answer is obviously Dan Henderson is a possibility too.”
You should have seen Silva’s face when White said that. This was obviously news to him, and judging from the raised eyebrows, not the best kind. But it also hints at two things -- one, that Henderson’s signing with the UFC could be imminent, and two, that he might be lobbying for the same fight that prompted him to leave in the first place. A rematch with Anderson Silva for the middleweight strap. Ahead of a card that’s centered on play-it-back matchups, this possibility seemed only fitting.