Diggin’ Deep on UFC Japan: Saint Preux vs. Okami – Main card preview

I gave an endorsement to the prelims of UFC Japan yesterday. I’m not sure whether to endorse the main card. There are too many…

By: Dayne Fox | 6 years ago
Diggin’ Deep on UFC Japan: Saint Preux vs. Okami – Main card preview
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I gave an endorsement to the prelims of UFC Japan yesterday. I’m not sure whether to endorse the main card. There are too many fighters with major questions to verify whether they should even be in the UFC at this juncture as opposed to whether they can be contenders. It’s for varying reasons too. Takanori Gomi and Mizuto Hirota are the most established fighters on this portion of the card, but their long careers have taken a toll on them to the point where it is unknown if they have enough in the tank. On the flip side, Gokhan Saki is transitioning over from kickboxing after winning a championship in that sport. Can he be successful in MMA? I have no idea. Can you see why I’m not sure what to tell you about this portion of the card?

The main card kicks off on FXX at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Friday.

Takanori Gomi (35-13, 1 NC) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (14-8-3), Lightweight

Make no mistake, Gomi is a legend. At one point, he was the #1 lightweight in the world with unmatched punching power for the division. But even legends have yet to win against Father Time. We’ve all seen Ken Shamrock hobble into the cage only to be destroyed by the likes of Robert Berry and Mike Bourke because he stuck around for too long. With four consecutive losses in less than three minutes, we can officially state Gomi has entered that state of his career.

The reason Gomi has been falling short is he no longer has the reflexes or the durability to remain competitive. Perhaps Gomi’s well-known smoking habit could be coming back to bite him… though it’s more likely that would affect cardio and Gomi hasn’t been going far enough into his fights for that to be the issue. Regardless, Gomi’s fall has been precipitous. There is a very strong likelihood that he still possesses the power to turn out the lights on his opponent, but it doesn’t do him any good if he is unable to connect his fist to their chin.

Kim is the type of opponent Gomi could find success with. Mostly a brawler with little regard to his own health, Kim isn’t the biggest or strongest athlete, nor does he have the savvy that veterans Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller were able overcome Gomi with. Given all of Gomi’s experience, he could have enough left in the tank to outwit the youngster and take advantage of Kim’s tendency to wade into the pocket and neglect moving his head or feet to avoid damage. Kim does throw good combinations with decent power, often punctuating them with a kick.

Both Kim and Gomi have shown some decent wrestling. Gomi relies almost exclusively on his power to score takedowns at this stage in his career while Kim is more reliant on his judo chops, using throws and trips to take the fight to the ground. The problem for Gomi is when he’s on the bottom as his Achilles heel has long been his submission defense with a major tendency to give up his back. Kim isn’t considered to be a major submission threat, but he does know how to maintain top control and often comes out ahead in scrambles and transitions.

I said Gomi had a chance to land the kill shot against Jon Tuck in his last appearance only for him to look even worse than I had anticipated. Though the puncher’s chance is always there, it’s stupid to rely on that when picking a fight. So long as Gomi remains in the UFC, I don’t see myself picking him to win any more fights. Expect something akin to a club-and-sub situation to do the trick for Kim. Kim via submission

Gokhan Saki (0-1) vs. Henrique da Silva (12-3), Light Heavyweight

More than anything, this fight is a great curiosity. A Glory kickboxing champion, Saki is stepping into the MMA world for the first time in thirteen years at the age of 33. There’s no doubt that’s a late age to be learning the wrestling and grappling side of the sport, but many forget Randy Couture was the same age when he first entered the realm of MMA. Okay, so the MMA landscape was vastly different 20 years ago. Saki is unlikely to become a champion, but becoming something competitive isn’t an impossibility.

Though Saki fought as a heavyweight during his kickboxing career, he was almost always the smaller man in the ring. Trying to picture him fending off a takedown from an opponent weighing upwards of 30 pounds didn’t seem feasible, so the move to a smaller weight class in MMA made perfect sense.

Known for his hand speed and devastating left hook, it’s unlikely there is a better pure striker on the roster at 205 than Saki. He mixes up his punches to all areas of the body with fluid combinations, often punctuating his combos with a kick… and not always just to the legs. As expected with someone accustomed to fighting at a size disadvantage, Saki is fantastic weaving his way in and out of his opponent’s onslaught and delivering his own brand of punishment.

Obviously, there is far more depth to his standup than what I can list, but more important is how he’ll be able to keep the fight standing. His opponent, da Silva, is known to be a plodding, come-forward striker with a tough chin. However, that chin has shown signs of cracking, lasting just 22 seconds against Ion Cutelaba. His willingness to strike is the reason the UFC booked him against Saki, but even he isn’t so stupid as to know his best chance to win is to take the fight to the ground. Da Silva has a single takedown in five UFC contests – and the only reason it worked was his opponent wanted the fight on the ground — but has shown some slick guard work and submission ability in the midst of a scramble.

Even though da Silva knows he needs to get the fight to the ground, I still expect him to want to test his standup at some point. Da Silva is a strong clinch fighter, but his overall standup is nothing compared to what Saki is capable of. Unless da Silva scores an early submission, Saki should be able to secure a KO without too much trouble thanks to da Silva’s lack of wrestling. Saki via KO of RD1

Teruto Ishihara (9-4-2) vs. Rolando Dy (8-5), Featherweight

Ishihara has become a fan favorite due to his flamboyant personality. How can you not love a guy whose catchphrase is “I love my bitches!” Then the UFC decided to neuter his personality and tell him he can’t say that anymore. Haven’t they learned with the Diaz brothers that the last thing you want to do is censor your charismatic talents? Now Ishihara is just a girl-crazy fighter without a shtick. Excellent job by the UFC marketing team….

Ishihara’s style is as brash as his personality, relying on his natural quickness and athleticism to dart in and out of range looking to land the KO blow. He has a love for spinning back fists and back kicks as well that have serious fight ending potential… provided they land of course. The major problem is if he can’t get a finish early, Ishihara tends to gas very quickly, often turning the final two rounds into courses on survival rather than a contest. It isn’t that he doesn’t keep moving or try to surprise, but the signature burst that allows him to catch his opponents off-guard is gone.

Dy made his UFC debut just three months ago as a wild card, facing Alex Caceres on short notice. He showed mounds of heart in addition to proving to be a better athlete than many expected, myself included. Though undersized for the division, he does pack a surprising amount of power in his punches and has slowly been improving his wrestling technique and timing. Dy has operated at a slower pace in recent contests, though it will be interesting to see if Ishihara’s early rapid pace sucks him into a brawling environment.

Ishihara has only attempted takedowns when he’s completely gassed whereas Dy does a solid job of mixing things up. Ishihara’s grappling is limited to survival skills, offering almost nothing offensive on the ground thus far in his UFC career. If the fight goes the distance – a strong possibility given neither has ever been KO’d in their career – than Dy is the favorite given his willingness to wrestle. However, Dy’s quality of competition has been inferior to that of Ishihara’s. The native of Japan will look for the finish early and should be able to find it. Ishihara via KO of RD1

Mizuto Hirota (18-8-2) vs. Charles Rosa (11-3), Featherweight

Am I the only one who felt like Hirota fell off a cliff in his last performance against Alex Volkanovski? He was taken down with ease, something that rarely happened prior to that contest, and he never threatened the Aussie in any series way. Hirota needs a big performance here to show that his career isn’t over.

If nothing else, he’ll get every chance to prove that against Rosa. It isn’t that Rosa is a poor fighter. It’s that Rosa tends to ignore any semblance of defense, opting for the philosophy of the best defense is more offense. His durability is a big reason why he can find success with that style, refusing to go down even as Shane Burgos laid the punishment on thick before the referee stopped the fight. However, Rosa did show an improved ability to land the counter, something that could lead to better defensive practices if he can continue to hone that. His power is an underrated aspect of his game too as most of his victories have come by way of submission.

While Rosa is going to give Hirota the opportunity to score his own offense, Hirota has struggled with fast paced opponents. Remember how an undisciplined and raw Ishihara schooled him over the first half of their contest a few years ago? That partially explains why Hirota looked so bad against Volkanovski. Hirota is at his best in a slower paced contest where he can pick his spots in the pocket to put together simple boxing combinations. It isn’t flashy, but it has allowed him to have a largely successful career.

The ground game offers a unique dynamic as Hirota’s wrestling is what led to his lone UFC victory while Rosa is most comfortable on the ground himself. Rosa has struggled to get opponents with an inkling of wrestling in their background to the mat and isn’t the greatest at stopping others from getting him down either. However, Rosa has allowed himself to be taken down at times. Few have shown a greater talent for chaining submissions together than Rosa. Catching Hirota will prove quite a test as the Japanese veteran has only been subbed by one of the better submission artists of this generation in Shinya Aoki.

Hirota has been plying his trade for well over twelve years now. At the age of 36, it looks like all that mileage is starting to show. His durability hasn’t faded yet, but that may not be a good thing for him as that only means he’ll take a prolonged beating. Rosa isn’t a great athlete, but he has a sizeable speed and quickness advantage and should look to exploit that on the ground. Rosa via submission of RD2

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About the author
Dayne Fox
Dayne Fox

Dayne Fox is a contributing writer and analyst for Bloody Elbow. He has been writing about combat sports since 2013 and a member of Bloody Elbow since 2016. Dayne primarily contributes opinion pieces and event coverage. Dayne’s specialties are putting together the preview articles for all the UFC events and post-fight analysis. Outside of writing on combat sports, Dayne works in the purchasing department of a construction company, formerly working as an analyst. He is also a proud husband and father. In what spare time he can find, he enjoys strategy games and is a movie enthusiast. He is based in Utah.

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