Until the UFC decides to unveil its own flyweight division, Tachi Palace Fights is looking like the place to be for the best 125-pound fighters in the world that want to avoid a long plane ride to Japan.
However, it seems like the promotion’s own champion, Ulysses “Useless” Gomez (7-1), is being somewhat overlooked.
Gomez will defend the title at TPF 8 on Feb. 18 in Lemoore, Calif., against Darrell Montague, another talented flyweight contender. But on that same night, Jussier “Formiga” da Silva (9-0), generally recognized as the top 125er in MMA, will make his second appearance for the promotion, facing WEC veteran Ian McCall in a highly anticipated bout.
It’s not often that a champion could get overshadowed by someone in the same division.
“I’ve been nothing but overlooked my whole life,” Gomez told ProMMAnow.com. “I got the belt with Tachi and people are talking about [da Silva]. I’m used to it.”
Although respects Da Silva’s talent, Gomez believes he is also on that level and wants to prove it.
“He’s good; I saw his last fight against Danny Martinez,” Gomez said. “I think he’s the #1 ranked guy outside of America. I like to think of myself as #1 in America.”
Rather than jumping straight into mixed martial arts and learning on the fly, Gomez developed a strong skill set and tested himself in other fighting disciplines.
In 2007, he won a gold medal at the 2007 FILA Pankration World Championships. Now a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu brown belt under Marc Laimon, Gomez has also sparred with world class boxers such as Wayne McCullough and Kevin Kelley, so it’s no surprise that he got off to a fast start.
After winning his first two fights in under two minutes combined, Gomez faced off against Rambaa Somdet with a title shot on the line. Gomez was going to have his hands full against Somdet, a Thai boxing practitioner with strong takedown defense, but his difficulty making the 125-pound limit took quite a toll and almost left him unable to compete.
“That fight I cut the most weight in my career and it was like I almost died,” he said. “I went to the hospital … and I hate needles with a passion but they had to stick me to get the IV in. Then the doctor said I shouldn’t fight. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I just let you stick me with a needle and now you’re telling me I shouldn’t even fight?’”
Gomez fought anyway, going the distance and losing a decision to Somdet. Although he hasn’t lost since then, Gomez admitted that he’s only recently mastered his weight cutting routine.
“I didn’t learn from that mistake right away,” he said. “Even when won the belt, I still had issues.
“Cutting weight is a marathon, not a sprint. If I’m 14 or 15 pounds over within a week of the fight, I can make the weight. But it might affect my performance, it might not. It’s a crap shoot. I’m in the low 140s right now and I’ll gradually keep working my way down.”
In his last fight, Gomez competed in the Bellator Fighting Championships 135-pound tournament against Travis Reddinger. Although he pulled off a split decision win, Gomez didn’t perform up to his own standards.
“Not to take anything away from Travis, but I think I’m way better than him and just didn’t show it,” he said.
With the success the WEC had bringing the bantamweight and featherweight classes to the masses, it’s easy to forget that the flyweight division hasn’t been much of a blip on the radar outside of the biggest mixed martial arts fans. That’s starting to change, but even Gomez’s friends didn’t necessarily pay all that much thought to his career until he fought for Bellator and fought on national television for the first time.
“Before when I would tell people I had a fight, they’d say, ‘Oh, good luck.’ When they found out I was fighting for Bellator, I had friends telling me they were pulling for me and going to watch it. Suddenly I had a lot more people watching on TV, and I think I was a little nervous because of that. I don’t know if maybe I didn’t prepare as well as I should’ve, but I prepared same way I did for my last fight, and that was a five round fight.”
And fighting at bantamweight, Gomez, who stands at 5’5”, had another problem. At 125, Gomez is usually eye-level or a bit taller than his opponent. Reddinger, though, towered over him at 5’10”.
“When got him down, I just kept thinking, Man, this guy has really long legs, don’t get triangled. I was thinking about that and he still almost got one on me in the third round.”
He added, “I thought, well, I’m going to 135, it’s no big deal. But I was the shortest guy and I had the least experience.”
Gomez had to drop out of the tournament due to a staph infection, but now back to full health, he’s going back to 125 and preparing for Montague.
“I watched his fights against Luis Gonzalez and Jeremy Bolt; he has good hands, good wrestling,” Gomez said of Montague. “As far as Jiu Jitsu, I haven’t really seen anyone test his Jiu Jitsu. But when I fight the way I’m capable of, no one’s going to beat me.”
At 8-1, Montague is certainly no slouch and one of the fighters in the race to become the world’s top flyweight. Nevertheless, you would think Gomez might have a tough time keeping focus.
Besides da Silva, TPF has also signed Alexis Villa (8-0) — a 1996 Olympic wrestling bronze medal winner — and John Dodson (11-5). Both are ranked in or around the top ten by most pundits and will square off at TPF 9 scheduled for May 5. And even with the promotion’s strong flyweight group, a UFC 125-pound division seems more a matter of “when” than “if.”
“I would rather have fought ‘Formiga’ for my first defense. It’s just business. They say he’s the best and I want to solidify myself as the best. It didn’t work out and they told Darrell he’d get the first shot so that’s all I’m focusing on.
Gomez added, “My main goal is just beating Darrell. If the UFC gets [a flyweight division], or Bellator, whoever … that’s great. But I’m only looking at my next fight.”