Nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is a relatively unknown historical figure to the common person, yet one of his most famous quotes can be attached to those moments in life that didn't turn out as you'd hoped. Following last night's lightweight main event showdown between former PRIDE lightweight champion Takanori Gomi and former UFC lightweight contender Kenny Florian, it was apparent that the once-menacing "Fireball Kid" may need to turn to some words of inspiration after being choked out by Florian in the third round of action.
Most people feel that the famous quote "What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger" is cliche, but it still remains a saying that people find comforting in during those dire times in their lives.
For fighters, the quote is synonymous with the culture of combative sports as it is almost impossible for professional mixed martial artists to go undefeated for their entire careers without ever having to learn through defeat. Most of the greatest fighters in the sport, with the exception of Fedor Emelianenko, have concluded that their demoralizing defeats have only made them more determined and better fighters.
Takanori Gomi's opponent, Kenny Florian, is a prime example. Following a loss to Sean Sherk for the UFC lightweight title, Florian became one of the most dangerous fighters within the division, and his loss to B.J. Penn may have ignited a new Golden Age in his mind and body.
The curious question now is whether or not Takanori Gomi can re-invigorate himself to become, at the very least, an upper-echelon talent in the UFC. Many hardcore fans were heartbroken by the Japanese legend's loss last night, but there are some positives to take out of the fight if you were a bit more objective than Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg's commentary.
Gomi's jab slip and subsequent one-two counter peaked out of the darkness in the second round and landed successfully, somewhat stopping Florian in the middle of his own counter. While it didn't crumple Florian to the ground like so many of Gomi's past opponents, it was an indication that Gomi isn't completely incapable of producing damage against the UFC's best lightweights. He wasn't completely taken out of his game after being peppered with the jab in the first round, and to be perfectly honest -- "domination" is not a word I'd use to describe the second round of action.
Obviously, the deficiencies in his game were more apparent. Kenny perfectly executed a move-in and move-out policy on his jabs for most of the fight. Gomi was unable to lean in and throw for power because Florian had already stepped out of danger, but the continued attempts by Gomi to catch an escaping Florian created opportunity for Kenny to land counters, which he did continuously.
Gomi's stand-up defense wasn't great, and Florian's use of the jab and improvement in that area of his game contributed to the numerous lands in the fight. The fact of the matter is that Gomi has never been a supreme defensive striker. He's eaten blows before to deliver the devastating knockout punch, and he's been jabbed a few times in his career rather significantly. It isn't a surprise to see Gomi take that much damage, but Florian certainly improved his speed.
On the floor, Gomi was completely and utterly disappointing. There really isn't much else to say. It's the most glaring weakness in his game, and it's obvious that those years of training like a lazy bum and just battering opponents hasn't helped him.
The improvements he'll need to make in order to compete at the upper-level of the UFC are vast. He'll need to improve his conditioning, work on his grappling, and become faster and crisper in his stand-up game. But I'm not under the assumption that all of this can't be done. I think the ultimate question lies in his mental stability following the loss, and whether or not he'll be able to get back into the gym with an outlook that is positive rather than negative.
If he can't, a legend has died. For now, all the talk that a legend has already died is premature. He'll never beat Kenny Florian or B.J. Penn, but to say he's done in this sport is unproven. Being beaten by the consensus #2 lightweight fighter in the world certainly means you should just retire, right? Gomi won't be a world beater in the future, but a serviceable middle-of-the-road veteran who could make a run at breaking top five in the UFC is possible with some grit and determination. Top five in the UFC isn't exactly the top however.