Yushin Okami took his loss to Anderson Silva hard.
Having been stopped in the second round of their UFC 134 fight, Okami returned to his native Japan and spent a month as a virtual recluse. He did not feel like leaving the house or speaking to people, let alone training. September passed in a blur of nothingness.
However, several weeks spent watching nothing but UFC events - except his own fight, which he could not bear to watch - prompted him to lift his head and begin preparations to re-enter the fray once more. He was subsequently notified of a fight with Tim Boetsch for the UFC Japan event taking place on February 26. Okami plans to return to the US to train with Chael Sonnen and Team Quest ahead of that meeting.
“I started my training again a month after the fight. I had lost my motivation to do anything and meet anybody. I had been too tired for anything. But I felt fine in that situation because it seemed everyone shared the same feelings as me - nobody invite me to their training,” Okami says.
“I watched only UFC, except for my fight against Anderson, although now at last I can bear to watch the fight.”
And when he watches the fight, he can see where he went wrong. As a wrestler at heart, many were surprised Okami tried to play a striking game with Anderson rather than attempting takedowns over and over again. Okami says he fell into a trap, fitting when one considers Anderson’s nickname is ‘The Spider’.
“I fell into the trap set by Anderson. He read my rhythm because of my many jabs. I wonder why I did not just try to take him down? There are many reasons for me losing the fight, I had some chances to take him down…” he says with a rueful shake of the head.
“I had many plans for beating Anderson. But I lost my way with them. I want to learn how to keep my head in the fight. My main reason for losing that fight was my mentality. I had not experienced such a mentality before. I must become more stronger fighter, making use of this experience. I felt something change because of this fight and I want to show it in my next fight.”
Okami has not fought in his native land for nearly six years and to say he feels a sense of duty for his upcoming Tokyo fight would be an understatement. No fighter wants to lose in front of their home crowd but that feeling is perhaps amplified with fighters who a strong sense of national identity, such as the Japanese.
“I have fought overseas for five years and half. I want to fight in Japan and I have an responsibility to fight in Japan. My supporters say ‘We want to watch you fight in Japan’ and so I think this fight has come at a really opportune moment after being defeated by Anderson,” he says.
And while his fight with Boetsch will not be overseas, some of his training camp will be. Okami spent time training at Team Quest in Oregon with Chael Sonnen and Matt Lindland before the Anderson fight. He enjoyed himself immensely and learned a lot of technique - and a new mentality.
“I want to go to Team Quest early and go over many things. It is not so much to get this win over the next opponent but to make me stronger in general. I will go to Team Quest to succeed in that aim,” Okami vows.
“I need to confirm my aim by training with Chael Sonen and Matt Lindland. I think it is necessary that I train at other gyms and with other fighters of course, but I feel extremely strongly that I need the training at Team Quest in particular.
“I had first experienced the camp with my team for this last fight and all the experience was good for me. I talked with Isono, my trainer, and found my faults. I must grow up as an MMA fighter. I have no plan to split with my [present Japanese] team, but I want to make the training more straightforward.”
‘Straightforward’ is a word that almost defines Chael Sonnen, given his propensity for saying exactly what is on his mind at any given time and sugar-coating none of it. Whether it is the Brazilian economy or a single-leg finish, Sonnen favours the full-steam-ahead approach.
“I predicted he would win that fight [with Brian Stann],” says Okami. “But I was impressed by his winning a complete victory by submission. When I called Chael to offer my congratulations he replied to me, “When will you come back to my gym?’
“I told him I will be back soon! He is aggressive in his fights and in his sparring. I want to learn his mentality for the fight.”
Sonnen’s next fight, against Mark Munoz, will earn him a second crack at Anderson Silva and the middleweight title if he wins. And so with the interview at an end, Okami is asked about his expectations of the result if Sonnen is to get the rematch.
He spends a moment looking at the floor in silent consideration. Eventually he offers an answer.
“It is difficult for me to say my prediction, because I was defeated by Anderson. If I tell you how I truly think a Sonnen-Anderson rematch would go, it would make me feel sad.”
Quotes/transcript provided and translated by Fighters Only's Japanese affiliate magazine Gong Kakutogi