On Saturday morning — Friday night on America’s East Coast — the UFC returns to the iconic Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, for the fifth time in promotional history. UFC Fight Night 117 features a short-notice headliner and the return of No. 1 strawweight contender Claudia Gadelha.
The original main event was scheduled to feature sixth-ranked light heavyweight Ovince St. Preux and fifth-ranked Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. However, Shogun had to pull out this week and was replaced by UFC veteran Yushin Okami, who was released from the promotion in 2013. Okami has graced the welterweight division in the World Series of Fighting and other regional promotions for the last few years, but he takes this short-notice affair to fight OSP at light heavyweight. Sometimes, that’s what it takes to get back to the big show. OSP is coming off a win over Marcos Rogério de Lima, which was a much-needed victory after three straight losses.
Gadelha faces off against fourth-ranked Jessica Andrade in the co-headliner for what could lead to a strawweight title shot for either fighter. Gadelha still has only been beaten by current champ Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and Andrade was on a three-fight winning streak before losing to the champ in May. Both women are coming in hungry and ready for another shot at the strap.
Rounding out the card, world-champion kickboxer Gokhan Saki makes his UFC debut against fellow striker Henrique da Silva, veteran Takanori Gomi takes on “Maestro” Dong Hyun Kim, Teruto Ishihara looks to get back in the win column against Rolando Dy, and featherweights Charles Rosa and Mizuto Hirota clash.
The UFC Fight Night 117 Fight Pass prelims start at 7:30 p.m. ET. The FXX prelims and main card kick off at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., respectively. Combat Press writers Zach Aittama and Dan Kuhl are here to get you ready for the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
With an injury to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, the door has opened for the return of Yushin Okami. Okami hasn’t fought inside the UFC’s Octagon since 2013, but he’s gone 5-2 since his departure from the promotion, and his only losses in that span came against UFC veterans David Branch and Jon Fitch. Okami is moving all the way up to 205 pounds for his return against Ovince St. Preux. Is he doomed to fail?
Aittama: Okami will certainly have his work cut out for him heading into this match-up with OSP. The longtime UFC vet and Japanese MMA great has continued his winning ways outside of the Octagon. The 36-year-old has won his past four fights, all of which have taken place in the welterweight division.
For the longest time, Okami’s success in the cage was due to his size, strength and grappling ability. His drop to welterweight seemed like a strange move to begin with and felt like a response to hiss loss to the WSOF middleweight champion Branch. He didn’t find immediate success following his drop, though. Instead, he lost a decision to an aging Fitch. Okami has since found the win column against former regional champions Shingo Suzuki, Ryuta Sakurai and Paul Bradley. Despite his drawn-out appearance at 170 pounds, Okami has been able to get the wins and now finds himself back in the UFC on a week’s notice.
St. Preux stopped his three-fight skid when he locked up his second career Von Flue choke against Marcos Rogério de Lima at UFC Fight Night 108. OSP will likely carry a size advantage into the Octagon, but the biggest advantage for him on fight night will be his reach. St. Preux will need to use that advantage to keep Okami off of him and keep his back off of the cage. He can certainly handle himself on the mat with Okami, but let’s not forget he spent his training camp with the idea he was fighting Shogun. Okami brings different advantages to the table. Okami has only ever lost to the best fighters in their respective divisions at the time and his career has featured many successes, especially inside the Octagon.
Okami’s best chances in this fight are in the clinch, against the cage, and in top position on the floor. Okami has the striking ability to hold his own on the feet with the faster fighter, but will fare far better if he uses his wrestling to wear on OSP. If Okami can sap St. Preux’s energy in the opening rounds, then he has a chance to take home the upset victory.
Okami was cut from the UFC at a time when the promotion was going through some major roster changes. His release had far more to do with his style and price tag than his actual abilities inside of the cage. People will write Okami off before the fight even starts, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him pick up the win. However, the odds are stacked against Okami in this fight. OSP has an opportunity to move back up the light heavyweight rankings with a second straight win, and that seems to be the most likely outcome.
Kuhl: Okami’s release from the UFC seemed to be a bit harsh. He was 13-5 in the promotion over a seven-year period, and he once challenged Anderson Silva for the middleweight strap. It was pretty sad that he was forced to step into regional action. However, the drop to welterweight seemed like a great fit, given his size and power. Sure, he lost to Fitch, but that guy has the ability to wet-blanket an elephant. Okami deserves to be back in the Octagon, and while OSP is not the ideal opponent, he did the promotion a favor, and this kind of favor usually comes with four fights.
The truth is, OSP will likely destroy Okami in less than 10 minutes. He’s two inches taller and has a five-inch reach advantage. Okami is more experienced in the cage, and in martial arts in general, but if I was his corner, I’d be coaching my 34-year-old fighter to play it safe, not sustain any injuries, and put on enough of a show to earn a better match-up in a lighter division, where he can get a fresh start to his UFC career.
Okami has all of the ability needed to win this fight, but coming in on short notice to fight a full-camp OSP is not likely to end in his favor. I have OSP by stoppage before the end of round two.
Claudia Gadelha and Jessica Andrade face off in a women’s strawweight co-headlining showdown. Will a win here punch Gadelha’s ticket to a third fight against champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk? Can Gadelha neutralize Andrade as effectively as Jędrzejczyk was able to do?
Kuhl: The topic of Gadelha is a case of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” and it’s pretty frustrating. Nobody has been able to beat her, outside of Jędrzejczyk. Even though she is the top-ranked contender, how many chances does the UFC give her? Do Gadelha and Jędrzejczyk fight four times? Five? What if Gadelha pulls off the upset? Will there be an immediate rematch, given their history? Gadelha needs to get through Andrade first, though. Let’s also not forget that the champ needs to get through Rose Namajunas in November, as well.
Andrade is tough as nails. Her only loss since dropping to strawweight was to the aforementioned champ. However, while going the distance with or even submitting strikers has been her bread and butter, she has had issues with submission experts. Gadelha was the youngest ever Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt from the famed Nova União camp. Andrade will need to keep this one standing if she expects any chance to upset Gadelha. Even on the feet, though, there are no guarantees.
Gadelha has gone the distance with the champ twice, so her striking has been on point and always getting better. She is the only opponent to get within any distance of beating Jędrzejczyk, after taking her to a split decision in their first meeting. After her second loss to the champ, Gadelha moved her camp to the United States. She has been training in Albuquerque for this fight, so she is constantly refining her skills along with fresh talent and coaches.
At the end of the day, Andrade has a tough task ahead. While she has fought in the larger bantamweight division, she is one of the few strawweights who will have a height disadvantage against Gadelha. This one could easily go the distance, where Gadelha will win by unanimous decision. Then, we still have about six weeks before we know who she will likely fight next for the belt.
Aittama: I’m in line with my colleague’s opinion of Gadelha, who should be the next challenger for the strawweight belt following an impressive performance against Andrade.
Gadelha is undoubtedly the second best strawweight in the world. Both of her fights with Jędrzejczyk were absolute classics where the Brazilian found plenty of opportunities to score. In their most recent meeting, Gadelha won the first two rounds against the champion, but Jędrzejczyk showed her resilience. The Polish kickboxer mounted an incredible comeback to retain her title. Gadelha is once again in line for a shot at the belt after picking up victories over Cortney Casey and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Andrade is a relentless power-punching machine with an aggressive, come-forward striking style. Her dominant performance against former Invicta FC champion Jessica Penne kicked off her run to the title. Andrade took some shots against skilled striker Joanne Calderwood before locking up a guillotine choke late in the first frame. She went back and forth with Angela Hill to secure her title shot. Hill was able to do some damage to the Brazilian on the feet, but Andrade’s absolutely unstoppable pressure was the difference in the bout. In her title challenge against Jędrzejczyk at UFC 211, the Brazilian was completely nullified by Jędrzejczyk’s counter striking. The Polish champion put on one of her best performances in largely one-sided traffic over the course of five rounds.
Andrade’s pressure might be her undoing in this match-up with Gadelha. Her volume on the feet will draw out the best in Gadelha’s ever-improving striking techniques. Gadelha’s move to the United States seems to be just the right thing to bring her game to the next level. Gadelha will have a major advantage if this fight hits the floor, and Andrade’s style of striking could directly lead into wrestling and grappling exchanges.
Gadelha could put on a clinical performance over a full 15 minutes, but she will probably find a submission finish before the clock runs down.
Gökhan Saki. He’s not your typical UFC newcomer. He’s a very well-known kickboxer who will fight in MMA for only the second time ever and the first time in roughly 13 years. Can Saki replicate his kickboxing success in the MMA world?
Aittama: Saki has been one of the top light heavyweights in kickboxing for about a decade. The Dutch-Turkish kickboxer has competed all over the world against some of the top-level competition in his division, and even as a heavyweight. His ferocious power and exciting style will certainly be a much-needed addition to the struggling light heavyweight division, especially with the failed drug test from the former champion, Jon Jones.
Saki will obviously hold a striking advantage over much of the division. His grappling and wrestling will be a question mark heading into his debut. However, he’s been training for this fight with top light heavyweights Alexander Gustafsson and Ilir Latifi. I expect Saki to hold his own with much of the lower to mid-tier talent in the division. With that said, Saki has been outside of the kickboxing ring for a long time. He has battled injuries and was in a lengthy contract negotiation with GLORY, where he was the light heavyweight champ. Saki has only had four fights in the past four years. He has not stepped foot inside the ring for more than 29 months.
Will the Octagon jitters affect Saki? How about ring rust? Really, neither will be a major factor in the contest. Saki has fought in front of larger crowds in Japan before and at the highest stage in the sport of kickboxing. He was given an opponent in Brazilian Henrique da Silva that is a favorable stylistic match-up in the stand-up. Da Silva is a striker first and foremost, but he does have a grappling background. If Saki makes a mistake and finds himself on his back, then it’s likely he will have trouble with his adversary’s ground game. The Brazilian is effective off of his back, so even if he needs to pull a desperate move like pulling guard in the clinch, he could find success with a sweep and get on top of Saki.
Saki’s future in the division is certainly a question mark. Can he stay healthy? Will he be able to defend the takedowns or bring the fight back to his feet? These questions will start to be answered after he makes the walk to the Octagon for the first time. It’ll be a dramatic fight, whether Saki gets the win or suffers defeat.
Kuhl: Just to clear the air, this is actually Saki’s MMA debut, at least as far as I’m concerned. When he fought 13 years ago, he was only 20 years old and was still early in his kickboxing career. Today, Saki is a world-champion kickboxer, but so are a lot of guys that make that transition into MMA, with a mixed bag of results. Saki has the striking ability to match up with any top-level guy, similar to an Alistair Overeem or Melvin Manhoef (both of whom he faced in the kickboxing arena). However, MMA is not kickboxing. We’ve seen many great strikers falter badly, not just on the ground, but even in clinch situations against the cage.
Da Silva is not just a Muay Thai black belt, but he is also a purple belt in BJJ and has been training in grappling for a decade. The Brazilian is coming off three losses in a row after going undefeated in his first 12 fights. The last defeat was an early knockout after he got caught. Da Silva will most certainly be out for blood. He is likely on the brink of getting bounced from the promotion, so if he feels outmatched on the feet, then he can always resort to the ground game, where Saki has been lacking skill. Sure, Saki has had some high-level training partners, but, realistically, how much can he pick up in less than a year?
To echo my colleague, this should be a pretty exciting fight. Saki is looking to make waves, while da Silva’s back is against the wall. I’m not much of a gambler, but I would have to put my money on da Silva, because of his more well-rounded game. That being said, Saki could easily dominate this on the feet.
Syuri Kondo and Daichi Abe — do we need to know these names?
Kuhl: In the interest of full disclosure, I hadn’t heard of either of these fighters prior to them being announced on this card. Both have come from Pancrase, and Abe’s last fight was a knockout win over former WEC standout Hiromitsu Miura. Abe faces Korean striker Hyun Gyu Lim, and, between the two of them, they share 15 knockout wins, so I doubt this fight will disappoint. It’s too hard to gauge his value in the UFC at this point.
Kondo is in the same boat. She recently won the Pancrase strawweight title and is currently 5-0. She faces Chan Mi Jeon, who also came into the UFC at 5-0, but lost her promotional debut to J.J. Aldrich in June. Kondo’s most experienced opponent to date was 9-2, which is more fights than all of her previous opponents had combined, so, again, it’s just too hard to tell at this point.
Aittama: It seems very likely Abe’s name will be remembered following the event. The undefeated Japanese prospect kicks off the night in what looks like a potential “Fight of the Night” contender against Lim. The South Korean is known for his wild, do-or-die style of fighting that produced big-time knockouts and exciting contests in his six UFC fights.
Abe, 25, is also known for his striking battles and sneaky power. Even though he is only five fights into his professional MMA career, Abe has produced a solid resume of quality wins with victories over former champion and pro boxer Miura, Strikeforce vet Bryson Kamaka, and longtime Japanese veteran Kenta Takagi. Abe has continued to show off new layers to his striking game every time he steps foot in the cage. He floored Yuta Nakamura four times in the matter of two minutes. He pulled himself through troubling times against Takagi, suffering a knockdown early in the fight and putting on a dominant performance in the final two rounds. He made quick work of Kamaka with a counter left hook and put Miura down twice to score the knockout victory.
Expect fireworks when Lim and Abe meet in the center of the cage.
Kondo, 28, is a very intriguing signing for the UFC. The high-level kickboxer, professional wrestler and now undefeated MMA fighter is a solid addition to UFC’s roster of Japanese fighters. Kondo has won 13 of her 14 professional kickboxing bouts, with her only loss coming to top-15 pound-for-pound kickboxer E. Meidie. The former Krush women’s champion began her MMA career just over one year ago, but she has racked up some solid wins over Kanna Asakura, Kinberly Tanaka Novaes and Minna Grusander. Her style of fighting bodes well for her match-up with South Korea’s Jeon, who is also a striker by trade. Kondo has a fighting chance at becoming a solid addition to the UFC’s strawweight division.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Aittama: This card is made for the action junkies out there. From the opening fight between Hyun Gyu Lim and Daichi Abe, to the co-main event between Claudia Gadelha and Jessica Andrade, the fight card features a plethora of exciting match-ups from the flyweight division on up to light heavyweight.
The fight between American Top Team’s Charles Rosa and Japan’s Mizuto Hirota is sure to be in contention for “Performance of the Night” honors for one or both of these men.
Hirota is a former Sengoku, Deep and GCM champion with 18 wins and 10 knockouts in his pro career. The former Strikeforce fighter returned to the UFC for the second time after making it to the finals of the “Road to UFC: Japan” tournament opposite Teruto Ishihara. Prior to Hirota’s latest loss against top featherweight prospect Alex Volkanovski, the Japanese fighter had won six of his past seven, with his only setback coming via a split draw against Ishihara. Hirota picked up a big win over Cole Miller in December and now gets another UFC veteran.
Rosa, a Boston native, has consistently produced exciting fights and bonus checks. The three-time winner of the “Fight of the Night” award has been in battles with Yair Rodriguez, Dennis Siver, and Shane Burgos. Rosa holds victories over Kyle Bochniak and Sean Soriano inside of the Octagon. Prior to his UFC career, Rosa reeled off nine straight wins to begin his professional career.
Styles make fights. In the case of this fight, styles make for action. Both men are well rounded, but what makes this match-up a potential barn-burner is the toughness both men have displayed throughout their career. Hirota may have a slight advantage on the feet, and Rosa on the ground. However the fight plays out, expect some bruised faces and blood on the canvas.
Kuhl: I don’t know if it’s technically a “sleeper” on the main card, but I’m interested in watching longtime vet Takanori Gomi take on “Maestro” Dong Hyun Kim (not to be confused with “Stun Gun”).
This will be a great fight because both of these guys come to bang. Both men have won and lost pretty much everywhere, and I love that, because it means they are fighters, not gamers.
The odds are on the younger Kim, but don’t count out Gomi. This one could end at any time.
Pair this card with…
Kuhl: Any reason to eat sushi is right up my alley. The event is in Japan, so I’m going sushi all the way. With vets, newcomers, men, women, big fighters and little fighters, I’m going with a full-on sushi compilation, including raw fish, tempura, nigiri, sashimi, rolls…the works. And, of course, some sake to wash it all down.
Aittama: More regional matchmaking. The event features Japanese fighters in nine of the 11 bouts. For an event in Japan, the UFC did a great job of finding a mix of veteran and prospect to fill out this card for the hometown audience. I hope the UFC continues to take full advantage of its international roster when traveling overseas. Much like its shows in Brazil or Australia, the UFC has the capability to place homegrown fighters in the region where they will potentially have the most success. On Saturday night, that trend continues.
|Fight||Aittama’s Pick||Kuhl’s Pick|
|Main Card (FXX, 10 p.m. ET)|
|LHW: Ovince St. Preux vs. Yushin Okami||St. Preux||St. Preux|
|Women’s StrawW: Claudia Gadelha vs. Jessica Andrade||Gadelha||Gadelha|
|LW: Takanori Gomi vs. Dong Hyun Kim||Kim||Kim|
|LHW: Gökhan Saki vs. Luis Henrique da Silva||da Silva||da Silva|
|FW: Teruto Ishihara vs. Rolando Dy||Dy||Ishihara|
|FW: Charles Rosa vs. Mizuto Hirota||Hirota||Rosa|
|Preliminary Card (FXX, 8 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Keita Nakamura vs. Alex Morono||Nakamura||Morono|
|FlyW: Jussier “Formiga” da Silva vs. Yuta Sasaki||Formiga||Formiga|
|Women’s StrawW: Syuri Kondo vs. Chan Mi Jeon||Kondo||Kondo|
|WW: Shinsho Anzai vs. Luke Jumeau||Jumeau||Jumeau|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7:30 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Daichi Abe vs. Hyun Gyu Lim||Abe||Lim|