RIO DE JANEIRO – In much the same way as veteran and former title challenger Jon Fitch before him, Yushin Okami had become a “gatekeeper” in the UFC, and it was time for him to go.
That’s how UFC President Dana White on Sunday characterized the promotion’s decision to part ways with the Japanese fighter this past week, a little more than two years after he fought for the middleweight title.
Okami (29-8 MMA, 13-5 UFC) left on a loss, a first-round TKO against Ronaldo Souza earlier this month in “Jacare’s” home country of Brazil. But prior to that, he had won three straight fights.
Earlier this year, the UFC released Fitch (24-6-1) after a loss to Demian Maia at UFC 156, a decision that at the time was looked at as one of the most surprising UFC cuts in history, given Fitch was a former title challenger in the welterweight division and was 14-3-1 with the promotion. Fitch went on to sign with World Series of Fighting, and in June was choked unconscious in 41 seconds by Josh Burkman in his promotional debut.
With Fitch, White said money played a part. The veteran made a disclosed $66,000 for his loss to Maia, a number that would have doubled with a win. And White said paying that kind of money for someone whose previous four fights featured just one win, two losses and a draw didn’t make much sense.
But in the case of Okami, White on Sunday, speaking to a small group of reporters following a “World Tour” stop for UFC 168 in Rio de Janeiro, said money wasn’t a factor. But like Fitch, “gatekeeper” status was.
“It was the same thing when we were talking about (Fitch). You have to look at a guy,” White said. “Yushin Okami’s been there forever, and I’ve said many times I have nothing but respect for Yushin Okami. I think he’s one of the best Japanese fighters ever. But a guy gets to a point where he becomes the gatekeeper, and they start to go on a skid.”
White, of course, no stranger to Monday morning quarterbacking and criticism from fans and media members, knew there would be some controversy with the Fitch release, just as he knew there might be with Okami.
“When I said this about Jon Fitch, all these f—ing idiot experts on the Internet and all over Twitter and everywhere else (were upset) – these guys are big experts, yet I’ve been doing this for 13 years,” White said.
With Fitch, White’s argument that the fighter’s skills may be winding down were in some ways validated with his loss to Burkman. With Okami, time will have to tell. The fighter has not announced a new deal elsewhere, though the Las Vegas-based WSOF has indicated interest in signing him.
White didn’t rule out the opportunity for Okami, who is 32, to fight his way back into the UFC.
“It’s time for Yushin Okami to go out and test himself outside the UFC, get some wins and maybe come back, and it’s time for some other guys to fight in that division,” White said. “Yushin Okami’s had every opportunity in the world, taking on all the best. He even got a title shot and didn’t win. It is what it is. It’s no different than the NFL, soccer or any other sport. There comes a time when a team moves on and does other things, no matter where the guy ranks.”
Okami is ranked No. 7 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA middleweight rankings.
His UFC career features just one loss to a fighter who has not held or fought for a major title, and in that fight, a TKO loss to Tim Boetsch, he dominated the first 10 minutes before getting caught early in the third round in the UFC’s return to his home country of Japan.
Along with Boetsch, Okami’s losses in the past nine years are to Jake Shields, who challenged for a UFC title and held the Strikeforce title, at a Rumble on the Rock event; a decision loss to Rich Franklin in a UFC title eliminator; a loss to two-division title challenger Chael Sonnen; a loss to Anderson Silva for the middleweight title; and the loss to “Jacare,” a former Strikeforce champ, earlier this month.
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(Pictured: Dana White)