The 2007 acquisition of Pride Fighting Championships by Zuffa LLC, the parent company of the UFC, was MMA’s “NFL-AFL” merger, so to speak, as it brought the best athletes from the two most celebrated organizations in the world of fighting under one roof.
For years fans of MMA had been clamoring to see how their favorite fighters from the UFC and Pride would fair when matched against each other in the cage, and finally they would have an answer, though it was not the answer that most had expected.
Many of the Japanese-based promotion’s stars like Wanderlei Silva, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua looked out of their element during losses inside the octagon, giving pause to critics who had ranked them among the top fighters in the world during their time in Pride.
It was three years after the merger when former Pride Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi finally made his UFC debut, and the results were similar to many of his Pride counterparts.
In his inaugural UFC appearance the veteran Gomi looked sluggish and out of sorts against former #1 contender Kenny Florian, who outstruck the former champion before finishing the fight with a rear naked choke in the final round.
In his second UFC outing “The Fireball Kid” reminded fans why he reigned over the Pride Lightweight Division, as he blasted through the notoriously tough veteran Tyson Griffin in the first round, but the celebrating was short-lived.
After his first promotional victory, Gomi dropped consecutive submission losses to Clay Guida and Nate Diaz before picking up two consecutive wins against Eiji Mistuoka and Mac Danzig, bringing his promotional ledger to a respectable 3-3.
These two victories earned the Japanese super star a date with resident UFC wild man Diego Sanchez at UFC on Fuel TV 8 from Saitama, Japan.
After losing round one to Sanchez, Gomi came out in the second and third stanza looking like a new fighter. He abandoned the kicks that had gotten him taken down in the first round and employed a wider base and a snapping jab to keep the aggressive Sanchez at the end of his punches and thwart any further attempts for a takedown, but despite appearing to outclass the brawling Diego Sanchez in the final two rounds, the judges awarded a split decision to the “The Dream,” who has a knack for coming away with close fights.
Although Gomi’s last outing didn’t go his way in the eyes of the judges, fans of “The Fireball Kid” shouldn’t be discouraged.
Takanori Gomi has looked spotty ever since the dissolution of Pride, but even in defeat this may have been Gomi’s most impressive performance in the UFC. The former Pride champ stayed composed after falling behind, and rather than falling into a wild slugfest, used his boxing and footwork to pick apart his wild opponent and even spent the majority of the fight stalking Sanchez, who is typically the aggressor, and cutting off the cage.
This Saturday at UFC 172 Takanori Gomi will return to the cage against game Strikeforce veteran Isaac Vallie-Flagg who will look to weather the early storm against the Japanese dynamo. Expect Vallie-Flagg to utilize his conditioning to wear Gomi down in the later rounds and search for a submission late, but if Takanori Gomi again shows up in form, it could be a long night for his opponent.
It is unlikely that the owner of the Pride FC record for consecutive victories, with 10 straight spanning from 2004-2006, will ever reclaim gold at 155 pounds, but Gomi finally looks to be at home inside the UFC octagon, and with a wealth of experience and frightening stopping power “The Fireball Kid” could be a problem for up and comers at lightweight.