The Blueprint - Marquardt vs. Okami

Saturday’s main event features a middleweight title eliminator between two of the division’s longest standing contenders.
Saturday’s main event features a middleweight title eliminator between two of the division’s longest standing contenders.

Nate “The Great” Marquardt has been among the 185-lb elite since defeating Ivan Salaverry in his inaugural trip to the Octagon back in August 2005.  He needs a win over Yushin Okami to secure his second attempt at capturing UFC gold.  

Okami is the last man to defeat division kingpin Anderson Silva.  Granted, the win was via disqualification in a non-UFC bout nearly five years ago, which was a few months before either man debuted inside the Octagon.  Okami needs to upset Marquardt in order to secure his first shot at a world championship.

Notice the common theme?  A win by either man places him next in line after current number one contender Vitor Belfort.  Thus, a lot is on the line in Germany on Saturday night.

While both men are elite, well rounded competitors, they each have strong preferences as to where they want this fight to unfold.

Marquardt, who may be the most well rounded middleweight in the world, outside of Silva and Belfort, has rapidly evolved into a very fine standup fighter, after beginning his career mainly as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu guy. His last four wins have all occurred by knockout, which is a testament to his desire to develop a fan-friendly style of fighting that results in box office success as much as competitive success.

There is little doubt, therefore, that Marquardt will look to impose his standup game against Okami.  Because his foe fights from a southpaw stance, Marquardt will look to employ a lot of lead right hands, whether in the form of right crosses or Superman punches, as he jockeys to keep his lead left foot outside of Okami's lead right foot.  Doing that creates the perfect throwing angle for a lead right because it brings Okami's upper chest and head directly line with Marquardt's right hand, which means he will not have to avoid Okami's fistic guard, assuming he doesn't employ a Winky Wright-style pillar defense, to land the shots.

Of course, Marquardt needs to do more than just throw the occasional right hand in order to win.  Yes, I know he stopped Demian Maia with a single right hand thrown only a few short seconds into the fight, but that was akin to winning the lottery, so he cannot rely on that against a better rounded fighter like Okami.  The former title challenger will occasionally lead with the jab (if for no other reason than to keep Okami honest in his defense), finish his lead rights with clean-up left hooks, and intermittently throw right kicks to the body.

Okami fights very tall at times, so kicks to the body, particularly when thrown at the back end of fistic combinations, should prove to be a very effective weapon.

After landing a few shots, I fully expect Marquardt to circle out and reset his feet to continue the attack.  He is a very cerebral striker, meaning he doesn't often engage in all-out slugfests, but instead looks to pick his shots and retreat to safety before his opponent can land something in return.  

If Marquardt is able to avoid takedowns (more on that in a moment) and stays committed to a technical kickboxing match, I think he handles Okami 80 percent of the time.  He can increase that number, however, by shocking everyone and using his striking to set up a takedown.

Okami does not expect Marquardt to try and take him down.  It's not that Okami is a dangerous fighter from his back. His offensive guard is probably average for the division.  The point is that Okami's game is largely predicated on takedowns.  Anyone with superior striking skills, like Marquardt, would be foolish to risk getting taken down by going that route himself.  But that is the beauty of the situation.  Okami won't be expecting a takedown, so he should be very susceptible to one.

On the ground, Marquardt has explosive ground and pound.  He can stop someone with a single shot or a series of shots, and he knows how to throw slicing elbows, which are an effective way to bring the fight to a doctor-imposed conclusion.  More importantly, Marquardt's BJJ from the top position is excellent.  If he can get Okami to over extend an arm in defense of strikes, he can slap on an arm bar in a flash.  With that said, I'd prefer that he focus more on side chokes and arm triangles because a failed arm bar attempt means he will end up on his own back defending from Okami's strongest position.  

Turning to Okami, I don't want to give the impression that he is a free lunch on the feet--far from it.  This guy has very good, straightforward boxing skills.  He likes to use his jab, though he will not hesitate to lead with a straight left.  He isn't as committed as he should be to winning the battle of the lead foot, which leads to him following opponents around, rather than cutting off the cage.  But he has very good, thudding power in his fists--not one-punch, lights-out power, but the kind that wears down an opponent very quickly.  

Okami is also a good defensive standup fighter.  He uses his gloved hands to deflect incoming fire and typically moves his head to the side to avoid strikes, instead of pulling straight back.  And he counters very effectively off of an opponent's missed or blocked strike.

The biggest hole in his standup game is probably his relatively non-existent arsenal of kicks.  He throws very good knees from the clinch, but kicks are a different story altogether.

If Okami is on his game and Marquardt is less than sharp, he may be able to score a stunning upset on the feet.  I'm sure he isn't counting on that, though.  His boxing skills, while solid, are not nearly as effective as his ground control and wrestling base.  

Okami may not win any amateur wrestling contests against former top amateur wrestlers who now call the UFC middleweight division home, such as CB Dollaway, Aaron Simpson or Chael Sonnen, but he is very good at blending wrestling into his overall mixed martial arts game, which makes him one of the more effective wrestlers once a fight is underway.  Equally important is Okami's ability to keep a fight on the ground once he gets it there.  He has very good hips and uses them to maintain a dominant position when an opponent looks to sweep or posture up.

As a result, when Okami scores a takedown, the fight usually stays down until he decides otherwise.  And if we have learned anything in mixed martial arts, it is he who spends the majority of a fight in the top position on the ground typically wins, absent a sick display of BJJ.  Marquardt is a legitimate black belt in BJJ, but I don't think anyone, including the fighter himself, would expect him to dominate Okami from his back.  He might catch a submission if Okami makes a mistake, but Marquardt will almost certainly be losing the fight during the periods when he finds himself on the bottom.

The Japanese star knows that.  Thus, I expect that he has spent hours studying the tape of Sonnen's victory over Marquardt.  Sonnen was able to take down Marquardt at will during their fight and keep him there for basically the entirety of each round.  

If Okami is successful at scoring a takedown early in the first round and keeping him down for any significant period of time, the nightmare of the Sonnen fight will rapidly creep back into Marquardt's consciousness.  That means his standup game will become much more frantic, just like it was against Sonnen.  He will start swinging for the fences, rather than throwing good, technical strikes, which will result in him having less than stellar balance and leave him wide open for subsequent takedowns.

 How does he score a takedown?  The best way, in my opinion, is to appear fully committed to a boxing match early.  Okami shouldn't so much as imagine a takedown for the first 30 seconds of the opening round.  He should sit down in his stance and fire punches laced with bad intentions.  Marquardt will become more and more comfortable as his opponent strikes because he knows that he is the superior striker.  He will begin to sit down on his punches as well, and that is when Okami should shoot for the takedown.

The other option is to rely on his solid judo skills after initiating a clinch.  Judo guys are almost always better at executing throws from the center of the cage.  The danger with that route is the fact that Marquardt is very explosive from the clinch, both with knees and elbows.  And fighting from the clinch in the center of the cage gives Marquardt the space he needs to fire those shots.  Thus, I would prefer Okami to look for double-leg takedowns off of a strike or maybe a quick judo throw after stepping inside of a Marquardt strike, rather than working for a clinch and playing the Thai chess game from that position.

At the end of the day, I see this as a fight where Marquardt is the rightful favorite.  I think he wins the matchup more times than not, based on how they match up on paper.  The rub is that fights aren't fought on paper, and Okami seems to find a way to win, even in situations where he should be at a disadvantage on paper.  Will he win on Saturday night?  It honestly would not surprise me one bit.

QUICK FACTS

Nate Marquardt

•    31 years old
•    6’1, 185 lbs
•    74-inch reach
•    33-9-2 professional record (9-3 UFC)
•    4-1 in his last 5 bouts
•    7-3 in his last 10 bouts
•    7 of 12 UFC bouts have ended inside the distance (6-1 in those fights)
•    Has been stopped once in 3 UFC losses (TKO1 by Anderson Silva on July 7, 2007)
•    44.4% of UFC wins by KO/TKO (4 out of 9)
•    22.2% of UFC wins by submission (2 out of 9)
•    Last 5 wins occurred inside the distance (4 by KO/TKO; 1 by submission)
•    Won his last bout (TKO1 over Rousimar Palhares on September 15, 2010)
•    UFC bouts last an average of 3:25
•    0-1 in official title eliminators (UD3 loss to Chael Sonnen on February 6, 2010)
•    Current layoff is 59 days (TKO1 over Rousimar Palhares on September 15, 2010)
•    Longest career layoff is 220 days (UD3 over Joe Doerksen on March 4, 2006, to SUB2 over Crafton Wallace on October 10, 2006)

Yushin Okami
•    29 years old
•    6’2, 185 lbs
•    72-inch reach
•    26-5 professional record (9-2 UFC)
•    4-1 in his last 5 bouts
•    8-2 in his last 10 bouts
•    7 of 11 UFC bouts have gone the distance (5-2 in those fights)
•    Has never been stopped in a UFC bout
•    33.3% of UFC wins by KO/TKO (3 out of 9)
•    11.1% of UFC wins by submission (1 out of 9)
•    Riding a 2-fight winning streak
•    0-1 in official title eliminators (UD3 loss to Rich Franklin on June 16, 2007)
•    Current layoff is 104 days (SD3 over Mark Munoz on August 1, 2010)
•    Longest career layoff is 301 days (UD3 over Dean Lister on December 27, 2008, to UD3 loss to Chael Sonnen on October 24, 2009)

Midia

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