Casual UFC fans who are relatively new to the sport might be wondering why some Japanese guy they've never seen before is headlining UFC Fight Night 21.
Kenny Florian told Fighters Only magazine what he thought about the arrival of Takanori Gomi in the UFC:
"I think it's a huge treat for the hardcore fans who've been following this sport for awhile. It's always surprising to have newer fans who ask me who I'm fighting and I say ‘Takanori Gomi' and they say ‘Who is that?' And I'm like, ‘You haven't been following this sport, obviously.'"
Because if you had been following MMA in anything resembling a serious fashion for the last 11 years you'd have heard of Takanori Gomi, "The Fireball Kid."
There's a lot more to the story, but here are the three things to know about Gomi:
- The Greatest Lightweight in Japanese MMA History: He was the first PRIDE lightweight champion, earning his title in one of the most competitive and stacked tournaments in MMA history including Hayato "Mach" Sakurai, UFC champ Jens Pulver, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Joachim Hansen, Yves Edwards and Luiz Azerado. Before that he was the long-time Shooto champion after beating the legendary Rumina "Moonwolf" Sato and going 14-0 to start his career.
- Gomi vs Diaz: One of the Greatest Fights in MMA History: Gomi's epic No Contest (LOSS) against Nick Diaz at PRIDE 33 in Las Vegas has to be one of the most entertaining fights I've ever seen. Gomi blitzed Diaz early on with a barrage of wild punches out of no where before gassing a bit and getting worn down by Diaz' combination punches. In the second Gomi tagged Diaz again, shattering his orbital bone, but Diaz held on and began to once again wear down a fading Gomi with precision punches in bunches. Gomi dove for a take down and found himself caught in a gogoplata. Diaz' win was ruled a No Contest due to a positive marijuana test.
- Brought a Brutal Boxing Game to Japanese MMA: Although he began as a champion grappler as a teen, Gomi's mature style relied on his blazing fast power punching. This was a departure from the traditional submission minded Japanese fighter and electrified fans.
Sounds great, right? Well the problem is that Gomi's lost 2 of his last 4 fights and 4 of his last 11 (if you count the Diaz fight as a loss). Jake Rossen sums it up:
Thirty-one isn't osteoporosis territory, but Japanese standout Gomi has spent 11 years on the fight circuit. That's approaching the expiration date for all but the most genetically favored athletes. It's not that Gomi has dropped fights with the kind of spectacular fades reminiscent of Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes; it's that his in-ring disposition has been a mixture of bored and drained. He insists a U.S. tour will reinvigorate him. We'll see.
So how does Gomi explain his recent mixed results? MMA Junkie reports:
"I'm lazy," Gomi admitted with a laugh. "It was hard to stay motivated for fighting for so many years. I knew I should have trained more before the fights. But when I go to the ring now, I want to show an explosive fight.
"So many fighters are coming from all over the world (to fight in the UFC). I had been training in the same way for years. But now I'm more excited, and my conditioning is very good."
Gomi has certainly seemed bored fighting for the stumbling Sengoku promotion ever since the end of PRIDE. Even in his hey day he proved prone to being upset, losing to Marcus Aurelio in a non-title fight (he later avenged that loss) and coming in out of shape against Nick Diaz, whom he was expected to beat. But he's only 31 and might very well have something left in the tank.
Lots of quotes and fight videos in the full entry.
Here's Josh Gross' original write up of the Gomi-Diaz fight:
For Gomi it was yet another non-title affair against a good, quality submission fighter with a serious mean streak. Nick Diaz(Pictures) represented as dangerous an opponent as Gomi - whose strong chin and heavy, fast hands had morphed him into a bit of a banger these days - could find.
The result? Possibly the most entertaining fight in PRIDE history, one that forced both men to the hospital afterwards.
They went after one another from the start. Gomi put Diaz on the floor and walloped him with big right hands, but having been under the likes of Diego Sanchez (Pictures) and Karo Parisyan(Pictures), the deeply experienced 23-year-old from Stockton, Calif. remained calm.
Diaz said after Friday's weigh-in that Gomi was simply too small for him, and he was right.
The pace became furious after they stood and Gomi landed a shot that put Diaz back on the floor. The traditional 170-pound fighter recovered well and bounced his fists off Gomi's stationary, unprotected face. Jab, straight, left hook. Jab, straight. Right hand lead. Everything Diaz threw connected.
It was impossible for Gomi to weather the attack, but he did, if for no other reason than a staunch refusal to go down. But he paid a serious price, and a NSAC-appointed ringside physician examined Gomi closely between the first and second periods.
They went back at it to start the second, and Diaz suffered a nasty gash underneath his right eye. The 28-year-old Gomi seemed invigorated, but that changed rapidly when Diaz started to bounce more strikes off his face.
Gomi, hurt, moved in for a double-leg. It left him exposed to Diaz' lethal ground game and before his back had touched the canvas, the limber American slung his left leg over Gomi's right arm, locking it underneath the former Shooto and current PRIDE champion's neck.
Diaz (15-6-0) brought his other leg up to lock the gogoplata - an almost theoretical submission that has now finished fights on consecutive PRIDE cards - and force a tap at the 1:46 mark.
Here's the fighter of the year award article Sherdog did in 2005:
Sherdog.com has selected Brazilian Mauricio Rua and Japanese Takanori Gomi as its 2005 Fighter of the Year recipients. This is the first time the honor has been shared.
Both men dominated competition en route to winning separate PRIDE Grand Prix belts.
Gomi capped off his fantastic 2005 by knocking out Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) on New Year's Eve to capture the PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix title, becoming the first native Japanese to hold a PRIDE belt. Like "Shogun," the 27-year-old Gomi was unbeaten in five fights this year, doing all his dirty work from May through December.
Gomi's road to the title was not an easy one. Before stopping Sakurai the former SHOOTO welterweight champion submitted the man many felt would be his stiffest challenge in the tournament, Tatsuya Kawajiri, by rear-naked choke 7:42 of round one. Later that same evening, Gomi (23-2-0) would scrap for 15 minutes against Chute Boxe's Luiz Azeredo, winning a unanimous decision and advancing to the Grand Prix finals. That also marked his second victory over Azeredo in 2005, the first coming by way of vicious first-round knockout. Rounding out his year's effort, Gomi decisioned a scrappy Jean Silva in July.
Here's a great Genghis Con video HL of Gomi's greatest hits:
Gomi vs Diaz part 1
Gomi vs Diaz Part 2
Gomi vs Jens Pulver PRIDE Bushido 9, opening round of the GP
Gomi vs Ralph Gracie: