UFC 144 breakdown: Okami vs. Boetsch

Yushin Okami (26-6) vs. Tim Boetsch (14-4)

One of the most accomplished middleweights in the world returns home as he looks to bounce back from a disappointing second-round knockout at the hands of pound-for-pound great Anderson Silva.

Okami, 30, performed poorly against Silva in his long awaited title shot last August as he stood in the champion’s range and failed to effectively implement his strategy to close the distance and grind out an ugly win. The trip to Brazil and pressure of fighting in the champion’s backyard could have had something to do with Okami’s underwhelming effort, and he will need to start from scratch in hopes of ever fighting for the strap again. In fact, this matchup was placed on the preliminary card until the UFC opted to extend the pay-per-view broadcast to seven fights.

The Japanese southpaw, a judo black belt, is a strong wrestler with solid boxing fueled by a potent jab. His style is often compared to that of Jon Fitch as he tends to grind on opponents, meticulously outworking and outpointing them to win decisions. Okami’s methods are not earning him many fight bonuses, but his victories over Nate Marquardt, Mark Munoz, Mike Swick and Alan Belcher have established the Japanese wrestler as an elite middleweight.

Okami has recently spent more time training on US soil, working with Matt Lindland’s Team Quest alongside Chael Sonnen, one of only two men to defeat him since 2007, the other being Silva.

With a huge opportunity to catapult into the 185-pound division’s top 10, the 31-year-old American Boetsch should not be overlooked.

Boetsch has spent the majority of his career competing at 205 pounds. After trading wins and losses and suffering a submission setback to Phil Davis, Boetsch came to the realization that he was undersized for the division.

Since dropping to middleweight, Boetsch is 2-0 with dominant decision wins over Kendall Grove and Nick Ring. A powerful wrestler, Boetsch is now benefiting from his brute strength.

The American is always improving and he could surprise a few people with his performance, but the fact remains that he does what Okami does, only Okami does it better.

The Japanese veteran will be competing on his native soil for the first time since 2006, and he will be looking to make a statement. Okami will come forward with his stiff jab, while keeping busy in the clinch. Boetsch could give him trouble in some positions, but Okami’s superior control and boxing should be enough to earn him the nod on judges’ scorecards.

Verdict: Okami via decision