MMA fans were a little perplexed when the UFC decided to release Yushin Okami from their roster, who was ranked as a top five middleweight, even after his loss to former Strikeforce champion Jacare. Okami amassed an impressive record of 13-5, which is one of the best records of middleweight, and has now signed with World Series of Fighting, where he will most likely dominate the lesser competition. The puzzling move to fire Yushin has drawn criticism from journalists and fans alike, and whilst the Japanese fighter was never a PPV draw or a fan favorite, he was well respected in the fight world.
Dana White stated that Yushin was released due to his status as a gatekeeper and his inability to climb over the final hurdle to become a title contender. Yushin has fought for the title before, but was dominated by Anderson Silva and knocked out in the second round. Whilst Yushin may never have been a title contender once again, he still could prove a great test for young fighters. Silva, Chael Sonnen, Ronaldo Souza, Tim Boetsch and Rich Franklin are among the alumni of fighters to have defeated Okami, which is not bad by any means.
If this truly was the reason for cutting Okami, the UFC may as well release Sonnen, Michael Bisping, Alan Belcher, Wanderlei Silva and Mark Munoz in the middleweight division alone. One of the more honest reasons for Okami’s realease is his conservative fighting style. Okami is excellent at grinding down his opponents and riding on top control for the majority of his victories. Combine that with the fact that Okami gains around $100,000 a fight, and you have reasons that make economic sense to Zuffa.
What the UFC may has missed is the importance that Okami could have played in their global expansion plan. Okami is by far one of the greatest Japanese fighters in history on paper, possibly surpassing Kazushi Sakuraba. Okami could headline smaller cards in Japan and make a nice main card addition when the UFC holds events in the land of the rising sun. Okami is one of the last bastions for Japanese MMA, and could prove to be a huge role model to younger Asian fighters if he was marketed more by an organization.
It’s almost comical, in a sense, that Okami, a technically good fighter who is capable of beating most others, has been fired, whereas fighters like Dave Herman are still hired after four losses because they get finished quickly and put themselves in dangerous positions.
The UFC really does hurt their image when they let go great fighters for being boring. I understand that it’s the business of making money, but when the perception of MMA is still barbaric in many places, we want the fighters that are highly skilled to stay with the organization. Hopefully we will not see any more unnecessary releases and start trimming down the fat in other areas of the divisions.