When Takanori Gomi's debut in the UFC was announced to be against Kenny Florian, I was disgruntled. Why should they not give Gomi an easier entrance into the Octagon? Kenny is a bad matchup for him anyway, and UFC debuts are rarely the stage for a fighter's best performance.
After he lost that fight so decidedly, I figured like everyone else that he was long faded from his heyday in Pride. I was not quiet in voicing my opinion that a legend like Gomi should only be fighting other names that had long paid their dues in the sport, not up and coming talent that could build a name off of Gomi.
When Joe Stevenson was announced, I agreed with the choice. Stevenson worked his way up and had been fighting professionally since he was 16. Also, Stevenson was already a name and seemed to be at the appropriate skill level for a faded Gomi.
So when Stevenson was forced to pull out of the fight, and the UFC replaced him with Tyson Griffin, I was once again disappointed in the UFC's choice. Griffin did not deserve the fight. As a fan, I wanted a fight that favored Gomi so that he could get some momentum behind him in the states.
Well, you can imagine how excited I was to see Gomi ignore the odds and knock Griffin out in classic first-round fashion. It was one for the Pride fans, even if I begrudgingly admit it.
However, now that Gomi has achieved a spectacular win over young and talented fighter in his prime, the rules have changed. Gomi now puts himself in a position to where he is being taken seriously as a contender in the division, and it is not solely about seeing a once great fighter trying to earn respect from new American fans—and earn a paycheck.
Now I'm OK with Gomi fighting basically anyone in the lightweight division. It would be nice for him to fight someone with similar experience as him, but I would also like to see him try to get another big win over another fighter trying to climb up the contender ladder.
Here are the top five fights that I think would make sense for Gomi's next step.
Jim Miller is set to face Gleison Tibau next month at Ultimate Fight Night 22. If he can continue his win streak and look good against Tibau, the UFC could award him with an opportunity against a warrior like Gomi.
Miller has put together four wins since being out-boxed by Gray Maynard last year, and this would be a chance to see if his hands have improved.
This is a fight either man could win. Miller would have the edge on the ground, but if Gomi could keep it standing he could have his way.
This is probably the least interesting matchup in terms of name opponent, but if the UFC wants to try and make a name out of Miller, then this would be an option. Also, if a guy keeps winning, sooner or later you have to give him a big fight.
Since being upset on the sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter, George Sotiropoulos has put together six impressive wins in the UFC and established himself as a force in the lightweight division.
As notable as his last couple wins have been, a victory over Gomi would be the biggest win of George's career.
A win for Gomi would mean he beat a rising contender in the UFC that wasn't coming off a loss.
Certainly Gomi would have the edge on the feet, but Sotiropoulos has shown he can hold his own in the striking department. And if George could get Gomi to the ground, it would be a long night for the Japanese great.
No matter who won this fight, the UFC would have a new top contender to put in a big fight at lightweight.
Former champion Sean Sherk and rising contender Evan Dunham meet next month at UFC 119. In what will surely be a competitive fight—despite Sherk's long layoff—the winner's next option will not be an obvious one.
Neither fighter is ready for the top of the division after this fight and Gomi seems to me the best possible option.
Sherk certainly is the kind of veteran that Gomi should be fighting at this point of his career. He is a former UFC champion, is known in Japan, and both started their careers just about the same time over ten years ago.
Dunham is a budding young fighter that could benefit from a name like Gomi on his resume. That match would go a long way in letting us know how much Gomi has left, as well as how mature Dunham is. Can Gomi mix it up with a young undefeated up and comer?
All three of these fighters share the same biggest win in recent years over Tyson Griffin as well. Let's see who the best Griffin conqueror is. Not to mention, Gomi and Dunham have both notched decisions over Marcus Aurelio.
The fight still makes sense. Even though Stevenson is coming off a loss and a long layoff, he has paid his dues in this game and would be a solid opponent for the resurging Gomi.
Stevenson has fought for the title and won the second season of The Ultimate Fighter. The bottom line is that he is a big name in the UFC and a win over Gomi would keep Stevenson marketable.
Conversely, a win over Stevenson would help build Gomi's name in America. Gomi is a legend to anyone that watched Pride Fighting Championships, but there are a lot of young American fans that are not familiar with his long reign in Japan. Looking good over a former UFC title challenger and reality show winner would stick in the minds of UFC fans.
Also, there aren't many other options on what to do with Stevenson at this point. This fight would make sense from a business standpoint for the UFC as well. Not to mention it is a fight that was scheduled already and canceled due to an injury.
Clay Guida is a fan favorite to say the least. At the recent UFC 117 weigh-ins, he received the loudest roar of approval from the Oakland, CA audience.
Currently on a two-fight win streak—both by submission—Clay Guida would be a marketable option for Gomi's next opponent. It would also be a competitive fight that the oddsmakers would have a tough time deciding a favorite.
Guida always shows a willingness to come forward and engage at all costs, and Gomi has rarely been seen shying from a fight. Could Guida's notorious chin hold up against the superhuman power of Gomi? Would Gomi be able to fend off the smothering aggression of Guida?
Both of their last losses were to Kenny Florian, and a win here would go a long way in putting that behind them. I would be very interested to see how this one unfolds.