Yushin Okami had been one of the top contenders in the middleweight division for a long period of time before losing back-to-back fights to middleweight champion Anderson Silva and Tim Boetsch.
At UFC on Fuel TV 8, the Japanese fighter will have a chance in his home country to return to the elite ranks of the 185-pound division in a bout with Hector Lombard.
Lombard also had a recent setback against Boetsch, having a lengthy winning streak come to an end in a controversial decision in his UFC debut. The former Bellator champion bounced back quickly, though, finishing Rousimar Palhares in his following appearance.
As this pivotal matchup between middleweight contenders approaches, let's take a look at whether Okami or Lombard has the better chances of taking a big step toward challenging for the UFC's 185-pound championship.
Neither Yushin Okami nor Hector Lombard is going to light opponents up with a high volume of punches. The middleweights both land around 40 percent of their strikes attempted, but that has a lot to do with the fact that they use probing punches to set up the clinch or power shots.
Aside from his jab, almost all of Okami's strikes are used as a means to an end, which is his takedown.
Conversely, Lombard will throw a number of strikes to get his opponent backing up so that he can land one finishing blow.
We saw that type of attack work against Okami before when Tim Boetsch went head-hunting in the third round of his bout with the Japanese middleweight. If Lombard is aggressive in this matchup, he should be able to overwhelm Okami early.
While Okami and Lombard are both solid on top with their judo backgrounds, neither is especially known for using to ground-and-pound to seal victory frequently.
Once he takes opponents down, Okami is methodical and wary of sacrificing position in order to throw bombs or attack for submissions.
Lombard, meanwhile, will score points with takedowns, but he really prefers to fight on his feet for the most part—often allowing opponents to stand after taking them to the ground.
Prior to his back-to-back knockout losses to Anderson Silva and Tim Boetsch, Okami had never really shown signs of having a weak chin. However, just about anyone who gets hit cleanly by Lombard is going to have trouble staying on their feet.
Lombard has never been stopped and finished seven of his eight Bellator opponents with strikes. If anyone is going to stop this fight with their fists, it'll be the former Bellator champion.
Overall Striking Edge: Lombard
Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard are both high-level judo practitioners, which could turn any grappling in this fight into stalemates. Both men are successful on about half of their takedown attempts and stifle just about all attempts made against them to take their fights to the ground.
Given Lombard's advantages in the striking department, it's likely Okami will be more interested in looking for takedowns. Lombard's low center of gravity and heavy hips will almost certainly make the majority of Okami's takedown attempts in vain.
Even if Okami does find a way to ground Lombard, it won't be easy to keep the Cuban-born competitor on the canvas for long.
These middleweights are so powerful and explosive that it's hard to see either of them being controlled on the ground. Takedowns in this fight could still be important, though, as they'd be difference makers on the scorecards should the stand-up action be slow.
Neither Okami nor Lombard has ever been submitted. They also haven't been seen going for many submissions in bouts with high-caliber opponents.
It's highly unlikely that either middleweight will be forced to tap for the first time in his career in this matchup.
Overall Grappling Edge: Push
While Yushin Okami has been competing at the UFC level for years, Hector Lombard hasn't exactly been fighting for pennies in back-alleys.
Lombard was a longtime Bellator champion and fought under the Pride FC banner on a couple of occasions. He's not the type to become overwhelmed by the spotlight and certainly won't be sweating bullets in the middle of a Fuel-televised main card.
Okami may have a longer reach than Lombard, but he's not the best striker in the 185-pound division, so that won't result in a major advantage for the Japanese fighter.
While Okami often has the ability to out-muscle opponents, Lombard is built like a fire hydrant and had no problem holding his own when he found himself in close quarters with a former light heavyweight in Tim Boetsch.
Because Lombard does carry so much muscle on his relatively small frame, he can fade when opponents survive his early storm.
Like frequent training partner Chael Sonnen, Okami is one of those fighters who has a pitbull-like attitude and will keep coming forward until he is stopped.
If he survives the opening round with Lombard, Okami's gas tank could be a determining factor in this fight.
Overall Intangibles Edge: Okami
Hector Lombard seemed to learn a lot from his lackluster UFC debut against Tim Boetsch. It appears to have lit a fire that's driving him to prove he's as good as he was advertised coming into the world's top MMA promotion.
Yushin Okami, meanwhile, has been slow to evolve as a striker. In his most recent win, Okami once again leaned heavily on his grappling, and that may not work well against an opponent like Lombard.
If Lombard comes out firing and gets Okami backpedaling, he has the ability to finish and make a huge statement.
A stoppage of Okami would put Lombard near the front of the line for a middleweight title shot, considering how many people have wanted to see him fight Anderson Silva for so long.
Lombard defeats Okami by technical knockout (punches) at 2:16 of Round 1.
Statistics via FightMetric.com.