It's the main event of the UFC's first trip to Brazil in more than a decade and the Brazilian crowd is rabid for middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Of course, that doesn't exactly make him special. The crowd was insane throughout the night, responding to the opening act like they were superstars and, amazingly, managing to keep the energy flowing throughout the evening. The fight is a rematch - as the UFC didn't hesitate to remind viewers, Okami is the last man on the planet to beat Silva. That the win was a disqualification in a fight Silva seemed to be winning made little difference. When the champion is as dominant as Silva, it just makes sense to latch on to any sign of weakness, anything to make a challenger's chances just slightly more credible.
The two refuse to touch gloves to start the fight. While there has been tension between Silva and Okami's Team Quest teammates, this may be a matter of a language barrier, the result of having an English speaking referee officiating a bout in which neither fighter speaks masterful English. In a change of pace, long time announcer Joe Rogan is missing in action, back in the States filming a Fear Factor reboot. In his place is featherweight contender Kenny Florian.
5:00-4:00: The fight clock is brought to you by Shark Night 3D. No comment. Goldberg lets the audience know that both fighters are southpaws, meaning they jab with their right hand and throw power punches with their left. At 4:42, Silva throws the first strike of the bout, a leg kick to Okami's lead right leg. Guest announcer Kenny Florian explains that Silva likes to analyze his opponents before committing to much action. "He's like a computer," Florian explains. "He watches what you do, how you're moving, how you're coming forward. What you're doing to defend yourself. Picks up on your game. It's pretty much over from there." That's actually a pretty brilliant summation of Silva's style. Well done.
Meanwhile, Silva has switched to an orthodox stance and is flashing his left hand out over and over again. Okami joins in, and for a moment it looks like they are playing a weird game of patty cake. At 4:23 Okami throws a right-left combination, missing both badly. Instead of countering his off balance opponent, Silva decides to dance away. Florian notes that Silva has switched stances. He's a bit behind the savvy viewer at home, but most announcers would miss that detail all together, or gloss over it.
4:00-3:00: Okami continues to stalk, but is hesitant to engage. You can understand his reluctance. The slightest error closing the distance against Anderson Silva can be deadly. Silva still hasn't done anything since the leg kick to start the fight. He's reaching out with his lead hand over and over again, but throwing no punches. At 3:47, Okami misses with a jab, but moves in quickly behind it to get the clinch. This is his plan, his strong suit, his one chance to do the unthinkable- beat Anderson Silva. Okami lands a couple of punches, textbook Matt Lindland dirty boxing, but when Silva looks to control Okami's head and grab a Thai plum, the Japanese fighter quickly disengages.
The brief clinch seems to wake Silva up. He throws two lunging jabs, both missing badly, but he at least seems to realize there's a fight on. Florian explains that while Silva isn't the fastest or most powerful striker in the world, "he is the most accurate striker in the world." Of course, after that bold statement, it's back to the dance off; Silva is like Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Okami? He's not. If he were a dancer he'd be best suited for a country line dance and he'd most definitely be counting the steps in his head. Not that I know anything about rhythm and a lack thereof.
Silva's faking kicks, uppercuts, and generally just looking like a boss. Okami continues to patiently stalk Silva. It's clear he doesn't want to get caught for any extended time in striking range. When he jumps in, he wants to be sure he's getting the clinch. At 3:18 they both throw simultaneous punches. No one lands, but it's the most action packed sequence of the fight thus far.
Okami lands a jab and Silva misses two punches. Not much happening, but at this point Okami is controlling the fight. The two exchange jabs, but Kenny believes Silva is just biding his time. "All this movement, all this dancing, all these feints. They are all designed to analyze Okami."
3:00-2:00: Silva circles three quarters of the way around the cage, then switches to an orthodox stance. This time Goldberg is all over it. The announcing is fine here, but I think I would have liked to have had regular color man Joe Rogan in the booth for this fight. It's not that Florian isn't doing a great job. It's more that the moment demands the kind of excitement Rogan seems built to provide. At 2:50, Okami throws a wicked right hand and leaps in behind it to get the clinch. "Trying to close the distance is the challenger," Goldberg says, busting out his unique syntax. Actually, the distance was already closed. This time Okami doesn't immediately look to dirty box. Instead, he pushes Silva up against the cage, securing the position. Now he can worry about damage. This is right where he wants to be.
Okami lands a stiff uppercut, using the patented Team Quest dirty boxing. Silva pretends not to notice, using the time to look for a Thai plumb. It's a tricky situation for Okami. This is where he has the best chance to win the fight, but who can forget Silva brutally wrecking Rich Franklin from a similar position, not once, but twice. "Do not let Anderson Silva get the full Thai clinch," Florian tells Okami or a fictional Silva opponent. "Because knees will come flying up to your face." The two exchange short range blows from in tight. Silva risks a knee and Okami attempts to use that loss of balance to improve his own position. Silva lands a second knee to the body, this time a right instead of a left, and Okami pushes him into the fence at 2:!5. Referee Herb Dean is doing well to let them fight. The night had been filled with quick standups, but Dean seems inclined to let the fighters decide the bout.
Okami can't secure double underhooks, but he does manage one and is able to get a solid grip. If only for a second. Silva doesn't look like he's doing much, but he's stymieing Okami at every turn. Silva throws two more knees, and Okami lands one of his own. Okami closes the minute with a good right uppercut, getting back to the dirty boxing he had forgotten during his ill fated attempt at a takedown.
2:00-1:00: Silva is being extraordinarily patient. He's on defense, but every time Okami scores a point, as he does with a short uppercut, Silva answers in kind, this time with an uppercut of his own. "Anderson is really content to stay on the cage," Florian says. "He's able to get an underhook and turn but he seems content." At times Florian is calling play by play and color. Somewhere Rogan is saying 'Welcome to my life.' At 1:20, Silva lands a good knee and Okami blinks, going for a takedown with a single leg. Silva is able to squirm around and keep his balance, and Okami gives up the attempt without much of a struggle. He goes for a body lock again, but Silva is defending wonderfully.
1:00-0:00: Florian claims Okami is taking a page out of Chael Sonnen's book with his on-going clinch attack. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sonnen used precision striking to setup the takedown and spent most of five round pounding on Silva from the champion's guard. Okami is throwing the occasional punch, but not using them to setup up his grappling. Silva is actually controlling things on the fence. He hits Okami with a shoulder shrug, and the challenger backs up to reset. But it begs an important question - if Okami doesn't think he can win in the clinch, where does he think he has the advantage? Things aren't looking so good right now if you are an Okami fan.
Okami does have a nice jab, but when he lands it with 48 seconds left in the round, Silva counters with a kick to the body. Silva is throwing more with this new opportunity, but missing badly, both with the jab and the big left. His head movement causes Okami to miss a jab, but not two. He lands another solid punch and Silva answers back with a leg kick. Silva is suddenly on the attack, missing with a lunging right uppercut, but sneaking in a short left at nearly the same instant. "Nice uppercut," is the Goldberg call. Okami is unfazed and is right back with the jab.
It's his bread and butter and he's certainly not afraid to throw it over and over again. With seconds left in the round, Silva lands a left headkick. It doesn't drop Okami, but he does retreat to the cage. Silva swarms, but it's too late - the bell sounds to end the round. Silva, for good measure, lands a knee to the body that is a little after the horn, but with the rabid crowd, who knows what he could hear? You could give Okami that round, but it sure looked at the end like Silva had tested him and found him wanting.
5:00-4:00: Okami is still the aggressor, but Silva is much more open for business. When the Japanese star, a fighter UFC President Dana White called the best ever from Japan, missed a right, Silva was suddenly on the attack, landing a right hook. This time Silva refuses to take a step back. He lands a jab and a slightly awkward leg kick. The stalker has become the stalkee as Silva gyrates, moving wildly to disguise the form and angle of his attack. When it comes, it's another right hook at 4:41. Silva misses with a leg kick and spins in place. He doesn't so much as move and is right back on the attack.
Silva appears to have no respect for Okami, dismissively dodging his opponent's punches with a flick of his head. Some get through, but he seems not to care. "Anderson's hands are very low," Florian says. "You have to be careful with that, but his head movement is very, very good so he gets away with it."
At 4:18 they throw simultaneous jabs. Silva's lands flush, Okami's hits air. One of them ends up on his posterior. I'll let you guess which one. Silva takes a look at his opponent and makes the call that he still has his faculties. Instead of charging in for the finish, he puts his hands on his hips and Dean stands Okami up.
4:00-3:00: Silva immediately lands a kick to the body and then drops his hands to his sides. Goldberg makes a comparison to Muhammad Ali. "He's got that type of charisma." Ali was a cultural figure as much as a sports legend. I don't think anyone is likely to be comparable to Ali, unless it's the first openly gay athletic superstar in a mainstream sport. Anyway, Silva is a great fighter, but he's not Ali. And the comparison is not fair to Silva.
Stepping off the soap box, Silva has switched back to an orthodox stance and is doing some kind of weird squat. He's certainly a unique fighter. The crowd is going wild, chanting up a storm. It's loud enough I hope my colleagues on press row considered some hearing protection. After a kick to the body, Silva is just in front of Okami as both men throw right hands at 3:25. Okami drops to the floor and this time Silva doesn't plan to let him get up. He lands 13 punches, some of them caught by Okami's raised hands, but many getting through, before landing a knee to the body. Silva isn't wasting anything, carefully placing each blow, including an elbow to the body. "Silva is so accurate with his strikes," Florian exclaims, seemingly a little in awe.
3:00-2:00: Silva lands four consecutive right hands before Dean finally intervenes at 2:59 of the second round. What an sizzling end to an electric night of fights in Brazil. Silva, once again, has shown himself to be a step ahead of any man to ever step into the UFC Octagon. He's a living legend and the best MMA fighter ever.