Japanese middleweight Yushin Okami is the kind of guy who no one really wants to fight, and I mean that in the best possible way. In the end, it boils down to risk and reward.
If you lose to Okami, you'll probably look bad doing it. If you beat him, you join a short list that includes guys like former UFC champ Rich Franklin and recent title contender Chael Sonnen, but even then you aren't likely to add any new footage to your highlight reel in the process.
But that's not even the worst of it. The biggest problem is that, for the most part, MMA fans don't fully appreciate just how good Okami is. Maybe it's his penchant for wrestling-based decision victories. Or maybe it's because, due to his limited English and his reluctance to self-promote, many UFC fans still don't know what his voice sounds like after four years in the Octagon.
Regardless of the reason, Okami remains arguably the most unappreciated talent at middleweight. That's why there's no better time than right now to change all that.
For the first time since 2007, Okami has the chance to fight his way into a title shot with a win over Nate Marquardt. On paper, that might seem like a promotional nightmare for the UFC. If Anderson Silva retains his title against Vitor Belfort, that would mean a championship bout between two non-English speakers, with nothing but Okami's 2006 disqualification win over Silva to help sell it.
But forget pay-per-view revenues for a moment. Okami has good takedowns, excellent top control, and a head that's built for punching. That may not be the style to beat everyone, but it is one that's given Silva some trouble in the past, and possibly could again in the future.
That is, of course, if he can get past Marquardt.
While Okami's spent three years just trying to get back into a number one contender fight, this is the second one for Marquardt in the last nine months. He ranks higher on the marketability scale than Okami (at least his monotone comments are in English), but he's also more of a generalist in the cage. He does everything well, but isn't spectacular in any one area.
If Okami can put Marquardt on his back with anywhere near the ease and frequency that Sonnen did, you have to like his chances to leave Germany as the UFC's new middleweight contender.
On paper, that's not anything the UFC or the vast majority of fans would be too happy about it. Okami isn't the type of fighter who seems to put too much thought or effort into entertaining. He shows up on fight night with some variation of the same game plan, then spends the next fifteen minutes methodically applying it all over his increasingly frustrated opponents.
But while that makes him a somewhat forgettable fighter in the middleweight ranks, it also makes him dangerous. He's spent the last four years quietly plying that trade, to little fanfare or recognition. And that's fine. If it bothers Okami, you'd never know it.
Only now he has the chance to become something more than just a match-up nightmare or a career momentum-killer. He has the chance to finally get noticed and -- dare I suggest it -- even appreciated.
The possibility warms the heart, even if it bores the brain. Just know that on Saturday, much like the UFC has for the last four years, Marquardt is going to make him truly earn it first.