I winced when typing the stupid header above, and for much more than the general cheesiness of it. One of the all-time greats, Pride legend and former #1 lightweight Takanori Gomi, is fighting on this Saturday's UFC on Fuel TV 6 card in Macao ... and can't afford to fall any further.
Were there any truth to the hocus-pocus that a fighter's "budo" or "warrior spirit" can be stolen by their opponent in a particularly devastating loss, then Gomi's soul has been wadded up, chambered and burnt to a crisp in Nick Diaz's bong. If this comes off as excessively bitter, don't worry -- at the risk of being anticlimactic, my final prediction at the conclusion of this piece will be "The Fireball Kid" by TKO based on nostalgic principles alone.
I'm one of the unidentifiable few who still fondly recall the iconic image of a triumphant, fist-pumping Gomi straddling the ring-post in the corner of Pride's lustrous white ring, celebrating with genuine exuberance whilst the Japanese audience crackled with a polite roar and the doctors busily attended some blue-gloved and lifelessly prostrate corpse.
In one of the most epic brawls of the decade, Diaz and Gomi tore into one another viciously in what turned out to be a crowd-pleasing mutual massacre. It was classic Diaz -- both arms raised, talking shit with a confident sneer and walking Gomi down with a steady hum-drum of Stockton-style slaps. Gomi was doing his thing too: picking his spots to plant his feet and then rocketing heaters over the top or straight through Diaz's half-present defense. Then an odd thing happened: just a few minutes into the bloodshed, Gomi started to stumble around and flail out sloppy and telegraphed haymakers, seemingly gassed out and unable to hold his hands above his waistline.
And after Diaz tapped him with that highlight-reel-worthy gogoplata, Takanori Gomi has never been the same.
Having never really been a highly polished boxer, Gomi always relied more on thunderous power, good timing and raw brutality. Backed by under-rated wrestling, his scorching right hook and looping overhand left alone spelled doom for many a Pride lightweight. However, post-Pride, what used to be acceptable deviation from traditional striking mechanics quickly developed into a cringe-worthy display of nonstop swinging for the fences with a Hail-Mary mentality.
Even in his prime, Gomi was far from bulletproof defensively, and his pattern of always eating more punches than he should only increased the excitement of his fights and the drama of his victories. Now ... not so much. Laying someone out with a devastating flurry is the ultimate justification for having obvious weaknesses but, without that icing on the cake, Gomi is now defined by the gaping holes in his game.
His defense has always been shady but Gomi compensated for that with ungodly counter-punching and a kitchen sink for a chin. In the UFC, his hands have been slower, his balance is all out of whack, his feet barely move and even a kitchen sink shows wear when every thrown punch bombards off of it. Overall, the philosophy of being willing to "take a few in order to give a few" fails miserably when you're doing all the taking and none of the giving.
As a card-carrying member of the Gomi fan club, I'd prefer an opponent like Yves Edwards, Spencer Fisher, Anthony Njokuani or Jeremy Stephens -- not a seethingly technical juggernaut like Mac Danzig. Mac is one of the most technical and fundamentally sound veterans in the lightweight division, and also intelligent enough to capitalize on Gomi's susceptibilities.
A longtime submission grappler with over a decade of experience, Danzig doesn't represent an outright nightmare opponent for Gomi, but his intelligence, under-rated wrestling and stifling ground prowess make him keenly attuned to dismantle "The Fireball Kid." Barring a highly unexpected submission loss to Josh Neer, Danzig's only UFC losses have been to top-shelfers like Jim Miller, Clay Guida and Matt Wiman.
He's shown marked improvement recently in his striking acumen, as evinced by his shocking knockout of Joe Stevenson with a backpedaling left. Standing, his defense, footwork and head movement are all rock solid. The 5 TKOs on his record were achieved more by volume, persistence and mechanics than natural striking power.
While he's not a powerhouse wrestler, Danzig's firm grasp of technique shines through there as well: his timing is precise, he drops levels quickly after shrouding his attempt in a hail of strikes, he gets deep into his opponent's hips and drives through (while changing angles, if necessary) until he nails the takedown. On top, he's methodical in knifing to a better position, all the while cracking down short strikes and leeching onto any opportunities for a submission attempt. He'll either find an opening or make one, then exploit that advantage to the fullest.
Gomi's combat wrestling background makes for sufficient takedown defense, but his aforementioned lack of balance and composure has put him at serious risk lately. Where he'll really get in trouble with Danzig is in scrambles and transitions -- Mac is a clever grappler and usually a step or two ahead of his opponent, and also deadly with sweeps and a force off his back.
I expect Danzig to counter Gomi's wild barrages with in-and-out movement and tight combinations. Danzig has a killer left hook and a good straight right and uppercut, and should be able to ping a few through Gomi's defense to disrupt him before springing for a double leg and going to work. Following what seems to be the universal theme, Gomi has also been noticeably complacent when taken down, and his bursts of defensive activity have typically led to an opening for a submission, particularly in leaving his neck exposed for chokes.
Danzig enjoys a -230 spread on the betting lines, which seems about right. While ignoring the treachery of logic with my fingers crossed, and dearly hoping this isn't the last time I type these words ...
My Prediction: Takanori Gomi by TKO.