This past week, we learned that Yushin “Thunder” Okami was cut by the UFC. Now, we may have expected a further barrage of roster cuts from the UFC, but the UFC cutting someone who is a mainstay in the promotion’s top-10 rankings? That is not a move we expected to see.

The move itself is not unprecedented. After all, there was Jon Fitch. At the time of his release, Fitch was in the exact same boat as the Japanese star. He was coming off a loss to a top contender despite being largely successful inside the Octagon prior to the defeat. And as luck would have it, the similarities in the paths of Fitch and Okami don’t end there.

Okami has now followed Fitch straight into World Series of Fighting and will compete in a division that is unfortunately lacking the kind of depth and talent that would likely seal Okami a quick return to the big show. As such, it may be that Okami is left to work his way back up much slower than he would have preferred.

When the time does come for Okami to debut in the World Series of Fighting, he certainly must hope that the similarities between himself and Fitch end there. Fitch was choked unconscious by Josh Burkman in his World Series of Fighting promotional debut back in June, a result which vindicated the UFC’s decision to release him.

The UFC did not stop at Okami with its recent roster cuts either. The promotion parted ways with The Ultimate Fighter finalist Mike Ricci after his loss at the hands of Myles Jury. Like Okami, Ricci was quite well-known in the UFC, and as such it could be expected that he too would have been safe for the time being because of the recognition he had acquired.

However, in sending both of these men on their way, the UFC sent out a clear message that winning your fair share of fights is not enough to guarantee a place on the UFC roster anymore. The UFC wants fighters to put on great fights and not play it safe by grinding out a decision.

This approach can be viewed in one of two ways. First, it could be viewed as a great step towards reproducing some of the exciting back-and-forth battles that we have seen in the past before “lay and pray” was introduced to the MMA vocabulary. Alternatively, it could be seen as a sign that the UFC intends to proceed on a basis unlike any other high level sport by not rewarding those who consistently win, but rather reward those who win in a style that the UFC brass considers conducive to increasing the MMA fan base.

From a fan’s perspective, the first of the two scenarios would be very appealing. But on further consideration, it would seem that if the second of the two were to continually be adopted, then the product itself would become diluted to a point whereby we are no longer seeing a true test of who has the greatest overall martial arts skill set, but rather who is the toughest in an all-out scrap.

It is still too early to tell which of these scenarios will play out in the long term. At present, it must be said that the overwhelming majority of UFC roster cuts have thus far been entirely warranted and not met with too much backlash from fans. Indeed, prior to his release from the UFC, Okami would most likely have been featured towards the top of a lot of fans’ lists of fighters perceived to have exhausted their options in their respective division.

It is true that Okami had been to the top of the middleweight division and come up short. So, what purpose was he really serving prior to his release? In reality, he was not going to get a title shot any time soon, given the wealth of challengers awaiting the clarity that will no doubt be provided once UFC 168 has come and gone.

One consideration to take into account is that with these recent cuts the UFC has put doubt in a number of fighters’ minds as to whether their jobs are safe or if a poor performance might signal the end of their own UFC stint.

There are fighters who are undoubtedly on thin ice—fighters such as Francis Carmont, who has been singled out in the past and criticized for his fighting style by UFC President Dana White, or George Sotiropoulos, who enters his fight with K.J. Noons this weekend at UFC 166 on the back of three straight losses, or even Uriah Hall, who has also been singled out by the UFC boss for his poor showings since leaving the Ultimate Fighter house.

In addition to the above, there may be others who on the face of things seem safe due to past achievements or notoriety within the MMA world, but who could be considered expendable by the UFC for whatever reason. Fighters such as Colton Smith, Matt Mitrione or Brandon Vera could all be placed in such a category, and only time will tell whether they will suffer a similar fate to that of Okami or Fitch.

It goes without saying that as the UFC heads into its stretch of high-profile fights to close out 2013, the pressure will be on the fighters more than ever to deliver a performance that showcases their skills in a way that could be considered entertaining as well as effective. Let’s hope that cutting promos a la Wanderlei Silva is not a trend that catches on anytime soon, but it is exactly that sort of publicity stunt that is required to maintain name recognition in the hope that it will go some way to maintaining their employment status also.

Photo: Yushin Okami (Gleidson Venga/Sherdog)

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer
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Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.