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The Fireball Kid Forever

"I want to show everyone a good fight, one that they've been waiting over a year for. I'll give everything I have in the Octagon." - Takanori Gomi
UFC lightweight Takanori GomiAs a fighter gets older, the time for clichés grows shorter, with that energy spent telling the media what they want to hear better spent on training, strategy, and making the run for whatever that particular fighter is running for.

In the case of Takanori Gomi, that run still ends with a UFC lightweight championship belt around his waist.

“Of course I am looking for a championship,” he said through translator Mizuka Koike. “It would be great if I get a shot in the UFC held in Japan.”

It’s what you want to hear out of “The Fireball Kid,” the revered former PRIDE lightweight champion who appeared to turn the corner in his UFC career in 2012 after a rough beginning in the Octagon. But after back-to-back wins over Eiji Mitsuoka and Mac Danzig, the first by knockout and the second earning Fight of the Night honors, Gomi hit a roadblock with a controversial March 2013 loss to Diego Sanchez.

“It was difficult because Diego didn't make weight and I lost the fight,” said Gomi of the bout. “It was especially difficult because I lost the fight in my hometown, but a decision is a decision. That's what I had to deal with.”

That wasn’t all though, as a right hand fracture suffered in the bout put Gomi on the shelf for over a year. The 35-year-old finally returns this Saturday for a UFC 172 bout against Isaac Vallie-Flagg, but when asked if there were any positives for him to take away from the time off, he doesn’t mince words.

“No.”

That’s it. No poetic musings about finding himself, getting recharged, and having more determination than ever to get back on track. Just the most honest answer you can get.

“I missed the fight,” he explains. “I trained hard just thinking about the comeback.”

It doesn’t feel like a comeback in the traditional sense. For that, you think of a fighter coming off a definitive loss or a retirement, trying to grab that slice of glory one last time. That’s not Gomi. And while he hasn’t consistently dazzled like he did in PRIDE, two wins in the UFC, plus a close loss in a fight most believed he won, don’t exactly show him as being on the downside of a storied career.

At 35 though, every fight and win is important, and he knows this.

“I consider this fight as my new beginning or a second chapter,” said Gomi, who will be pushed by the aggressive and durable Vallie-Flagg, who is 11-1-1 in his last 13 bouts.

“He looks tough with a strong heart,” said Gomi of his opponent. “I will fight even tougher against him.”

And not just for himself, but for his still loyal fan base, one that will likely tear the roof off the Baltimore Arena when he makes his walk to the Octagon.

“It is very encouraging,” he said of the support he gets after all this time. “I want to fight for the friends and fans that supported me over the years.”

It’s only when he talks of the fans and the fight that Gomi reveals all. Everything else is just window dressing and a part of the job. When it comes down to it, fighting and the people who pay to watch him do it are all that matters, and on Saturday, he finally gets to speak to his fans once again in the way he knows best.

“I want to show everyone a good fight, one that they've been waiting over a year for,” he said. “I'll give everything I have in the Octagon.”


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