(Hard to believe that this guy let us down.)
In Shooto, Bushido, and the closing days of Pride, a truly unique fighter emerged in the land of the rising sun. A Japanese fighter with the heart of a lion. He had fists of stone and a chin that should have had an ‘out of order’ sign hanging off of it. What’s more, this young fighter truly fought balls out, standing toe to toe and banging with the best at a time when going to the mat was the norm for Japanese fighters.
Undefeated in the Shooto organization, “The Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi won an impressive fourteen straight fights. While he clearly dominated the competition, his time at Shooto did not make him the renowned figure he would become. With most of his wins coming by way of decision, his true punching power and rock solid chin were yet to be tested. After suffering his first loss in 2003 to Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen, Gomi lost to another top-rate fighter in B.J. Penn at Rumble on the Rock 4.
The loss to Penn would mark the beginning of the Gomi many of us would come to love and admire. He moved to the fledgling Bushido promotion (an offshoot of Pride FC), and scored his first three victories via TKO in the first round. For audiences who had grown to expect little more than Jujitsu and Judo from their native fighters, the Japanese fans instantly fell in love with their fellow countryman, who stood and traded with the fiercest foreign competitors.
One of Gomi’s most notable rivalries was against the American fighter Charles “Krazy Horse” Benett. More than simply a match of fighters, many Japanese MMA fans saw this as a showdown between America and Japan. While Benett’s punching power was unquestionably on par with Gomi’s, Benett proved to be consistently disrespectful to refs, fighters, fans, and the Bushido organization as a whole. Before his title shot, Benett would make constant claims that Gomi was ducking him, and that the Japanese promotion was protecting him. In 2005, at Bushido 5 in Osaka, Benett got his wish and the two faced off. The victory went to Gomi at 5:52 of the first round due to a kimura, but Benett never tapped. While many fight fans were happy to see the loud-mouthed Benett defeated, there could be no denying that the ‘victory’ was sour at best. This would prove to be one of the first clear examples of Japanese fight promotions showing a bias towards Gomi. The reasons behind this bias can only be politely speculated on, but frankly speaking, the hyper-nationalism so predominant in Japanese MMA promotions was likely the dominant factor.
In the semi-finals of the lightweight tournament at Bushido seven, Gomi faced off against a Brazilian by the name of Luiz Azeredo. While Gomi would go on to win a decision, this match would mark the beginning of the end for the Fireball Kid. After catching Azeredo with a hook, the referee moved to end the fight. With a sudden, blatant disregard for the rules and the ref, Gomi (in one of the most cowardly acts witnessed by this MMA fan) jumped on his unconscious opponent and continued his attack. Officials and team members from both sides flooded into the ring in an attempt to restore order. Gomi would later issue an apology to the fans in which he claims that ‘adrenaline’ was the cause of his unsportsmanlike conduct.
In 2005, Gomi became the Pride Lightweight Champion by defeating Tatsuya Kawajiri and Hayato Sakurai in the promotion’s eight-man, tournament. Next, he would suffer a first round triangle choke submission in a non-title fight against Marcus Aurelio. Gomi would rematch against Aurelio for the title at Bushido 13 in 2006. This ‘match’ was comparable to the Silva/Leitis debauchery that we were exposed to at this year’s UFC 97, with neither fighter willing to…fight. Gomi would win the match via split-decision, but it would serve as more of a blemish for the Fireball Kid, than a solidification of his champion status.
Gomi’s next notable performance came at Pride 33 as he took on Nick Diaz. This bout against Diaz was arguably one of the best MMA matches in recent history. The two traded devastating blows throughout the fight, and while Diaz definitely sustained more visible damage, he ended Gomi in the second with a rarely seen gogplata submission. This victory for Diaz was subsequently changed to a no-contest by the NSAC after Diaz tested positive for wacky tobaccy. There is still controversy surrounding this ruling as marijuana is clearly not a performance enhancing drug. In fact, many make the claim that marijuana slows reaction time and generally reduces performance levels, so if Diaz beat Gomi in such an impressive fashion while under the influence of a performance inhibiting drug, then this MMA fan would love to have seen what Diaz could’ve done to Gomi without the ‘aide’ of weed . Gomi’s management made the claim that marijuana gave Diaz a higher pain threshold which allowed him to endure more punishment than usual.
In May of 2006, Zuffa purchased (and subsequently closed down) the Pride promotion. Soon after, a new Japanese promotion by the name of World Victory Road popped up. In the promotion’s first two events, Gomi defeated Duane Ludwig and some no-name Korean fighter, both in unimpressive fashions with a TKO due to a cut and a decision.
Gomi competed again in November of 2008, and January 2009 against two unknowns. He lost both matches in an unimpressive fashion, and subsequently disappeared from the MMA scene altogether.
In a recent interview, Gomi was asked about his latest performances and his leaving the MMA scene. In yet another seemingly half-hearted apology, Gomi said that he had been focusing on the development of his gym (Rascal Gym), and included that he is not the fighter he once was. The interviewer then pointed out that the name of the last event in which he performed so poorly was “Road to Gomi” (Translated from Japanese). Gomi reiterated that he does not think he is the fighter he once was, and said that he was sorry.
Takanori Gomi had all the tools and talent to be one of the greatest lightweights ever. What’s more, he had the whole nation of Japan behind him. While the Fireball Kid certainly had his time in the sun, and while few can deny the impact he’s had on the sport; when looking at his career in a general sense, it’s had to deny the bitter taste left in my mouth. I could easily wrap this up by simply saying that Gomi is a wash-up who should join Sakuraba in the annals of mediocrity. And I will.