Akihiro Gono has signed for his next fight, and once again, it's not in MMA. The UFC and Pride veteran will take part in a Muay Thai event in Japan this weekend on May 29. The event is sponsored by Japan's NJKF organization. Gono's fight is part of a larger international Muay Thai tournament that concludes this fall. That tournament, called the Isuzu Thai Fight tournament, will feature top Muay Thai talent from all over the world competing in two different weight classes. This weekend's event is a 4 man tournament to determine Japan's Thai Fight representative at the 70kg level. If Gono wins, he'll move on to the main tournament, which begins in September.
The flashy and popular Gono actually started his career as a kickboxer before making the transition to MMA, and his last fight was indeed under kickboxing rules as last month he took part in Japan's Krush event, facing top 20 fighter Yuya Yamamoto. Video of the fight is available in the full entry. Gono lost that one via unanimous decision, and did not impress me much with his kickboxing. Watching the fight, you see Gono fighting with his hands dangerously low, and using techniques more geared towards MMA than kickboxing. His conditioning also seems a bit off right from the opening bell (possibly because he failed to make weight), and is definitely hurting him by the middle of round 2. While he does make it the distance, you get the sense Yamamoto is having fun in there and not going for the kill. I doubt he'll be afforded the same luxury by more experienced Muay Thai fighters.
Looking at Gono's chances here provides some mixed views. The level of Muay Thai in Japan is not the best, and I am not familiar with any of the other tournament participants, so Gono does have a shot at winning this weekend and making his way into the main tournament. But if he does, that step up to international level Muay Thai opposition is going to be brutal. Already announced for the fall tournament is Buakaw Por. Pramuk, one of the world's best at 70kg. That's an indication just what kind of competitor Gono will find himself against. Add in the fact that Gono did not make the 70kg weight limit in June, and has only had one 70kg fight in MMA that he lost, and I see this ending poorly for the overmatched Gono.
Akihiro Gono gained a large following in Pride thanks to both his spectacular ring entrances and impressive victories over the likes of Gegard Mousasi and Hector Lombard. After Pride closed, he made the switch to the UFC, going 1-2 in an unmemorable run. His return to Japan is perhaps most remembered for the brutal head kick KO he suffered at the hands of Dan Hornbuckle in 2009, although he's put together a 3-1 MMA record since that time. His last MMA fight was August of 2010, when he lost in his lightweight debut.
Akihiro Gono vs. Yuya Yamamoto
Krush, April 29, 2011