Takanori Gomi has come to be known as a sloppy, wild brawler with nothing more than a chin and a punch but this was not always the case. Before over-eating, under training and buying into his own hype, Takanori Gomi was legitimately the finest lightweight on the planet and one of the most dangerous strikers to ever appear in MMA. Beginning in Shooto as a ground and pound specialist, back to back losses to Joachim Hansen and B.J. Penn sent home the message that a strong punch and good wrestling were not enough in the lightweight division. From his entrance into PRIDE's Bushido promotion (designed for lighter weight fighters) the ratio of boxing to ground and pound in Gomi's matches continued to shift to boxing as he became more and more confident in his abilities on the feet.
Many will know Gomi for his hypnotic punching power (enough to knockout the iron jawed Tyson Griffin in one punch) but there was a great deal more at work in Gomi's prime. Often I find it necessary to remind readers that the science of striking and the form of striking are two very different things. For instance there are a great many fighters out there with perfect technical form who still get hit more than they deliver strikes and who can't punch their way out of a paper bag. Conversely there are fighters who abandon the so called basics, beat opponents silly and go unpunished for "gaping holes" in their games. These men are people like Fedor Emelianenko and Prince Naseem - men whose craftiness and bag of tricks put them well above the man with text book form. Gomi was one of these men.
In the run up to UFC Macau I want to break down a few of Gomi's finest performances, partly because I find it hard to get excited about Rich Franklin fighting Cung Le, but mostly because Gomi is likely to look mediocre and again fans who didn't see him at his best will question whether he was ever that good. Today we'll look at a match from Bushido 9 - perhaps the greatest card in MMA history as Dan Henderson and Takanori Gomi both fought their way to the finals of the welterweight and lightweight tournaments respectively. In his first bout of the night Gomi met Tatsuya Kawajiri in what many afterwards called the fight of the year. The bout was billed as the battle of the "21st century boys" and as always, PRIDE's video introductions were out of control. Production like this in the UFC would go a long way to selling Cung Le versus Rich Frankin!
From the beginning of the bout the southpaw Gomi showed brilliant footwork, switching to orthodox when he couldn't get outside of Kawajiri's lead leg, and ruthlessly exploiting the opportunity as a southpaw if he could. The staple of Gomi's game was the lead left straight, during which he would duck his head outside of his opponent's body and lower his hand, loading up a right hook. Dropping the right hand would be picked up on by many coaches as bad form placing Gomi in danger of the opponent's left hook, but because Gomi has outside foot position and his head is off center it is fairly safe for him to drop his hand to gather some swinging momentum in his hook.
1. Gomi backs Kawajiri onto the ropes, steps his right foot outside of Kawajiri's left (dominant position from Open Guard [southpaw vs orthodox]) and moves his weight forward.
2. As Gomi lunges onto his right foot he moves his head offline to his right, outside of Kawajiri's shoulder. Kawajiri is forced to swing with his arm fully extended if he hopes to counter with a left hook.
3. Gomi returns his head to the center, and then over to the left as he delivers a right hook to the ribs - Kawajiri's attempt at countering Gomi's head movement is now far too wide and he brushes Gomi with a forearm.
4. As Kawajiri attempts to move away Gomi attempts to catch him with another right hook to the head.
Throughout the bout Gomi's footwork looked graceful and functional as he constantly pressured Kawajiri, switching stances when he wished to mix his game up. The footwork Gomi displayed in changing stances was beautifully smooth and he never stopped in front of Kawajiri to "hop" and switch feet in the air as many inexperienced switch hitters do. It's hard to capture stills of this so I highly recommend watching the fight (it's brilliant) or picking up Elementary Strikingwhere I touch on changing stances with the Classical Sidestep.
Another example of Gomi's savvy and footwork came halfway through the opening round as Gomi was finding it harder to corner Kawajiri who would rapidly circle out when Gomi approached. To alleviate this Gomi back Kawajiri up, then retreated to the center of the ring. Thinking he sensed weakness, The Crusher chased Gomi with his trademark aggression and ran directly onto a left straight.
A final useful subtlety to take away from the Gomi - Kawajiri barn-burner is Gomi's use of what I referred to in "Analyzing Fedor: The Striking of the Emperor" as 'muscling' or 'off-balancing'. Many smart strikers realize that boxing is not about always throwing punches; the late Emmanuel Steward said that a good deal of boxing is about "wrestling" with another man. An example of this is how men such as Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko and Nick Diaz will do a great deal of shoving and cross facing in their bouts while landing combinations. Most recently we saw Anderson Silva use an extended arm to shove Stephan Bonnar into the fence, only to switch feet and knee him on the rebound. Here is Gomi's use of the technique to land his double right hook.
1. Gomi pressures the wobbly Kawajiri against the ropes, he is controlling Kawajiri's lead hand by taking outside position in the handfighting.
2. Gomi steps outside of Kawajiiri's lead foot, drags his lead hand down and throws a left straight.
3. Gomi connects a hard right uppercut to the body.
4. Instead of throwing a left punch Gomi extends his left hand onto Kawajiri's shoulder, deliberately letting his left hand passed Kawajiri's head and driving his forearm into Kawajiri's face.
5. As Kawajiri attempts to stand up straight he naturally leans back into Gomi, who releases his left hand and lands a hard right hook on Kawajiri's jawline.
Gomi's constant pressure and body work tired Kawajiri rapidly despite Kawajiri being well known for his stamina and constant forward movement in bouts. Late in the first round Kawajiri attempted a takedown but could not complete it and was too fatigued to stop Gomi taking his back and submitting him with a rear naked choke.
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