On December 31, 2005, the last right hook of a devastating combination landed and ended the night for Hayato Sakurai. With the victory, Takanori Gomi, “The Fireball Kid,” was declared the Pride 2005 Lightweight Grand Prix Champion. His impressive journey to the championship cemented him not only as one of the top lightweight fighters, but also as a top pound for pound fighter. Despite only being three years ago, that night seems like a distant memory.
Fast forward to now and Gomi is hanging on to just a thread of respectability. Last November, Sergey Golyaev finished what Nick Diaz started. Although controversial, Golyaev took the decision victory and pushed Gomi that much closer to the edge. Many thought that Gomi had done enough to take the decision over the unknown Golyaev, but unlike in Las Vegas, this time luck was not on his side.
Nick Diaz’s drug of choice helped keep Gomi’s record clean, but with the way the former Pride champion was fighting it was only a matter of time. Before losing to Golyaev, he was less than impressive against Seung Hwan Bang and got past Duane Ludwig due to a cut stoppage.
Usually in combat sports, strings of dominance lead to championship fights. Unlike most fighters, Gomi will be stepping into a title fight at what appears to be the lowest point of his career.
Making his loss to the previously unheralded Golyaev all the more deflating, is the fact that it took place on the same night of the “Road to Gomi” tournament finals. Satoru Kitaoka defeated two opponents in one night to bring home the tournament championship and earned a shot at the vacant lightweight title. The two will battle for the belt on January 4th as the main event of Sengoku’s No Ran card.
Although his position in the sport looks grim, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Takanori Gomi. With a win over Kitaoka he will once again be a champion of a major promotion and chances are that a defense against Golyaev isn’t that far off. With a few victories, the only ever Pride lightweight champion should once again enter the top fighter discussion.
In the world of MMA one can quickly fall off the perch, but in many ways rising back to the top can be just as sudden. The road back to pound for pound greatness is not an easy one, but then again nothing worth having is ever easy in the fight game.