March 30, 2010

Along Comes Takanori Gomi...

event posterBy Regina Trolman

Former PRIDE FC Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi will make his UFC debut on March 31 at UFC Fight Night 21. Diehard MMA fans will be sitting couch side anxiously awaiting the Japanese superstar to take to the octagon.

Known to his fans as the 'Fireball Kid', Gomi was once touted as the Best Lightweight Fighter on Earth. With an unorthodox fighting style - great wrestling, submission defense, and effective punching - Gomi was a fighter that was tough to beat in his heyday.

At age 20, Gomi began his Professional MMA career in 1998. His debut was at "Shooto Las Grades Viajes 6' in Tokyo, Japan. There he defeated Hiroshi Tsuruya by a third round unanimous decision. From that point Gomi remained undefeated in his next 13 MMA matches.

Gomi reached super celebrity status in Japan. Japanese fans treat him like the greatest of all rock stars.

The majority of his fights were in the Shooto organization where he held the World Welterweight Championship until August 2003 at which time he was defeated by Joachim Hansen at 'Shooto in Yokahama Gymnasium'.

Seeking an opportunity to squash his feelings of defeat, Gomi entered Hawaii's 'Rumble on The Rock 4' in October 2003. Unfortunately, Gomi was again met with defeat when B.J. Penn submitted him (rear naked choke) at 2:35 of the third round.

Following a four month layoff, Gomi found a new home in Japan's largest MMA organization, Pride Fighting Championships. His debut with the organization came on February 15, 2004 at 'Pride Bushido 2'. Success in this match came as he stopped Jason Costa via TKO (strikes) at 4:55 in to the first round.

Gomi was quickly asked back to Pride to face off with the undefeated Ralph Gracie at 'Pride Bushido 3' on May 23, 2004. Interestingly enough, Gracie was B.J. Penn's first MMA coach. A win over Gracie would make a very bold statement. As fate would have it, Gomi rolled right through Gracie by scoring a six second first round TKO (knees). This has been recorded and still stands as the fastest knockout in Pride FC history.

Over the next 2 years Gomi continued to dominate in Pride FC holding Lightweight Championships during both 2005 and 2006.

Faithful MMA fans cannot forget Pride 33 - February 24, 2007 held in Las Vegas Nevada, where Gomi suffered an upset at the hands of UFC veteran Nick Diaz via gogaplada submission at 1:46 of the second round. Although not a title defense, Gomi was completely devastated and fans were shocked! Days after the fight, the Nevada State Athletic Commission declared the match a No Contest after Diaz tested positive for marijuana.

We roll our story ahead now to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, where for over the past 2 years B.J. Penn (#1 in Lightweight Division Rankings) has climbed to domination. Penn has worked his way through the UFC Lightweight division, fighting the likes of Sean Sherk, Joe Stevenson, Kenny Florian, and Diego Sanchez. Penn is next set to fight Frankie Edgar on April 10, 2010 at UFC 112.

Although already defeated by B.J. Penn, Kenny Florian (#4 in Lightweight Division Rankings) wants another match up against the Lightweight champion. UFC President Dana White and Matchmaker Joe Silva see things differently - What better way to challenge Kenny Florian than with the newly acquired 'Fireball Kid'?

Gomi will enter the organization fighting under rules that are completely new to him. He'll be fighting in an octagon for the first time. Another major adjustment to his training and fighting - the use of elbows! Takanori has been fighting for years in organizations that did not allow the use of elbows for striking. Ironic first opponent, don't you think? If ever there were a 'King of Elbow Strikes' he would be Kenny 'KenFlo' Florian. Look out Gomi!

A formidable opponent, I see Takanori Gomi as the fighter to shake up and excite the UFC Lightweight division. Just when we thought that the Lightweight division was getting stagnant, along comes Gomi.

My one concern for Takanori Gomi with UFC fans: An unfortunate fact is that fighters who don't speak English are not always well received. Gomi is a phenomenal fighter who only speaks English through a translator; if the fans cannot make a connection with him it may be hard for him to be successful as a champ.

"Well, if Gomi is such a superstar in Japan then why did he come to the Ultimate Fighting Championship?" Gomi says that the UFC is his last big challenge as a fighter and he wants to see how far he can go on the world stage. Who wouldn't want to showcase their skills and prove that they can be the very best?

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