When former Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi steps foot into the Octagon at UFC 172, he may very well be at a crossroads in his career.
First, he has lost three of his last five fights, which does not bode well for any fighter in the organization. Gomi's last loss was a controversial decision to Diego Sanchez, and he may have some wiggle room if he loses his next bout to Isaac Vallie-Flagg.
In addition to that, the promotion may be hesitant to let go of such a known name as it looks to expand into Asia, especially Japan. Gomi is a star in his homeland, and the UFC would like nothing more than to see him get back to his winning ways.
But nothing is set in stone when it comes to MMA. The UFC surprised many when it released Jon Fitch, who was one of the more consistent fighters in the history of the welterweight division.
While Gomi’s style is arguably more exciting than Fitch's, the simple fact remains that Gomi is not doing as well as many thought he would. Since signing with the UFC, he has lost more fights than he has won, and he needs to turn that around.
The pairing of Gomi and Flagg might make some think that the Japanese fighter is being given every chance to turn things around. While Flagg does have power in his hands and a fair ground game, he doesn’t have the experience or one-shot power of Gomi. Even though Flagg trains with Greg Jackson, Gomi looks to have a sizable advantage.
If he cannot defeat Flagg, not only will it raise eyebrows within Zuffa, but it should make him take a serious look at his career.
Gomi is 35 and cannot spend needless time and energy chasing his dream of UFC gold up dead-end roads. If he wins, then he might be on the right track—but if he loses, he needs to make a serious change.
Obviously, anything can happen in MMA. Fighters often endure the ebb and flow of victory and defeat, especially as they get older. Once upon a time, Gomi went two full years unbeaten, defeating six of 10 opponents by KO/TKO in 2004-2005.
He is now in the largest organization in the world at a time when the sport is bigger than it has ever been. The chance for him to see his name grow (along with his bank account) has never been greater than it is now.
Consider this: If the UFC decides to take The Ultimate Fighter to Japan, Gomi would doubtless be one of the chosen coaches. There really isn’t any other Japanese fighter that the UFC would choose in his stead; Gomi’s name and accomplishments make him the perfect fit for the job.
But that possibility only exists if he can stay with the company. To do that, he needs to start winning some fights.
Gomi has long been an exciting fighter to watch. He’s durable, throws incredibly heavy punches, loves to win and doesn’t mind getting bloody and battered in pursuit of victory. It’s amazing to think he’s never been knocked out before.
His penchant for putting on thrilling fights is obviously something the UFC knows it can bank on; the promotion has kept other fighters around far longer than most would have thought possible based on their entertainment value. Dan Hardy lost four fights in a row yet remained employed due to his wild-swinging style, so Gomi may not have his back to the wall just yet.
But Hardy was much younger during his skid than Gomi. Does he really want to take the chance that the UFC won’t see him as a spent fighter if he loses at UFC 172? In a situation with so many unfavorable outcomes based on so many variables, there seems no doubt that victory alone will see him go forward.
Gomi has always been a game competitor who fought to win. But now, more than ever, he needs to fight to survive.