Takanori Gomi (32-8) is one of many UFC 144 cast members endeavoring to reconstruct his once-resplendent reputation. Since it's still not fully realized or greeted with sour-faced skepticism, let's reiterate a fact: Takanori Gomi was once the undisputed number-one lightweight on the planet. Yes, he was indeed submitted by B.J. Penn immediately after "The Prodigy" drew with Caol Uno and departed from the UFC, but there are two imperative facts to consider: Penn abandoned the lightweight division for four years while traipsing around overseas in higher weight classes and the UFC completely liquidated their 155-pound class from UFC 49 in 2004 until UFC 59 in 2006.
These two events triggered a monumental transformation for the global lightweight division, the most prevalent being that all of the 155-pound talent migrated to Japan to compete in Pride FC. Before the doors of the division swung shut in the UFC, the major lightweight players were: Jens Pulver, who was crushed by Gomi and Hayato Sakurai in Pride, Yves Edwards, who lost a tight split decision to Joachim Hansen in Pride's lightweight Grand Prix, Josh Thomson, who submitted one opponent in Pride before signing with Strikeforce (where he lost to Clay Guida for the vacant lightweight title in his debut) and Hermes Franca, who faded out when he dropped three in a row after his UFC tour.
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While all of this was transpiring, Gomi was ascending to legendary status by beheading a throng of lightweights with his skull-splitting boxing power. Since the former UFC fighters had all lost in Pride and were effectively out of the picture, the frontrunners for the lightweight throne were Tatsuya Kawajiri and "Mach" Sakurai ... both of whom Gomi trounced in the first round, becoming the Pride champion and undisputed alpha-lightweight in the process.
That's the good part -- the rest gets ugly. Gomi had starched thirteen of his fourteen opponents in Pride and avenged his only loss before facing Nick Diaz, who latched a stellar gogoplata to end a dramatic brawl. Things went entirely downhill for Gomi from that point on. Halfway through his next six, he would incur back-to-back losses and then find victory in only one of his four Octagon stints.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Initially paired with Aussie George Sotiropoulos, venomous submissionist Eiji Mitsuoka (18-7) has filled the void. No stranger to the Japanese circuit, Mitsuoka's decade long journey has meandered through Pride FC, Dream, Shooto, DEEP, MARS, Greatest Common Multiple (GCM) aka "Cage Force", World Victory Road's Sengoku promotion and King of the Cage.
His noteworthy wins include UFC-caliber lightweights Gleison Tibau, Gerald Strebendt (both by TKO stoppage), Samy Schiavo and Brian Cobb (both by submission) along with reputable worldwide talent in Joachim Hansen (split decision), Rodrigo Damm and Clay French (both via submission).
Anyone who thinks Gomi is getting a gimme-win here is sorely mistaken. Mitsuoka is a fierce wrestler with elite submission grappling and big punching power. He's definitely a UFC-level lightweight and also has the perfect style to exploit Gomi's known weaknesses on the mat.
To be clear on his Achilles Heel -- Gomi is quite a capable wrestler but has always struggled against avid submission fighters. In his heyday, Gomi fit the "wrestle-boxer" mold to a tee: his wrestling complemented his striking perfectly to either stay upright and chuck bombs or score takedowns and shower frightening ground-and-pound from the top.
Gomi was a pitcher in baseball throughout his youth and those mechanics can be seen clearly in his scorching left hand. He possesses some of the most fearsome knockout power the sport has seen and hurls his overhand left just like a fastball.
Gomi's cement-filled hands give him the potential to end the fight at any time. In the gif above against Tyson Griffin, he proves that he's still a beast in the pocket and a highly inadvisable fighter to trade with. Notice how Griffin's low kick connects solidly and wobbles the lead leg, but Gomi doesn't let it stop the momentum of the massive counter-punch he's wheeling in response. The sequence to the left shows Gomi's take on neutralizing takedowns. While this exemplifies why he was such a devastating and exciting lightweight, his mediocre technique with the more traditional methods of takedown defense is the root-cause of his troubles.
Though he has decent power on the feet, Mitsuoka is not a huge threat standing. However, he's an absolute animal with position, passing and submissions on the mat, and also has the wrestling background to implement it.
Mitsuoka wrestled in high school and during college in Japan and began his MMA career as basically a one-dimensional takedown artist. Logging years in the gym and in the ring has drastically cultivated his submission grappling prowess, and he now stands as a cunning powerhouse on the mat. The armbar to the right is applied on Sergey Golyaev, the Russian who upset Gomi in Sengoku.
On the left, against Bruno Carvalho in his last outing, Mitsuoka nailed a double-leg and doesn't even bother to defend the guillotine choke, but rather just fast-forwards to pinning the right-side knee in order to pass. Mitsuoka is a slick guard-passer with a knack for writhing his way into full mount, where he doubles up his attacks with heavy punches and submission attempts with a boat-anchor base to maintain control.
Of his eighteen career wins, eleven are by submission with three TKOs and four decisions.
Takanori Gomi is probably the last of my all-time favorite fighters who are still in the game. I've picked him to win every fight and this won't be an exception. However, there's no question that Mitsuoka typifies a poisonous match up -- perhaps even more so than some of Gomi's past opponents because his wrestling is just as perilous as his submission acumen.
The dynamics here are the same as every other Gomi fight: he'll look to avoid takedowns and light off the cannons on the feet. A discouraging trend in Gomi's UFC turns is that he's been rather hesitant to pull the trigger. Since his obvious advantage lies in the stand up, striking complacency only saps his chances further. Because he's such a tremendous slugger, Gomi reservations can be attributed to the fear of being countered with a takedown when his feet are planted, and that concern will only be heightened against Mitsuoka. An upset by submission or decision is not out of the question by any means.
My Prediction: Takanori Gomi by KO.
Gomi vs. Griffin gif via ZombieProphet of IronForgesIron.com
All others via MMA-Core.com