This Day in MMA History: May 22

By: Ben Duffy
May 22, 2020

It is a curious and ironic thing. Even though Japanese MMA was considered to have the deepest and strongest pool of lightweight talent in the early 2000s—certainly for the over-four year span that the Ultimate Fighting Championship did not even have a lightweight champion—and even though smaller fighters generally elected to continue competing in Asia after the fall of Pride Fighting Championships in 2007, when many of their heavier colleagues headed west to the UFC and other North American promotions, Pride crowned only one lightweight champion, and he only defended his title once.

That future champion, the legendary Takanori Gomi, faced Luiz Azeredo at Pride Bushido 7 on May 22, 2005. While Azeredo is notable today mainly as an answer to a trivia question—“Who are the four guys that beat Anderson Silva before he was Anderson Silva?”—he was a legitimate contender at the time. Gomi, on the other hand, was a chosen one seeking to reclaim his status. After starting his career 14-0, “The Fireball Kid” had hit a rough patch in 2003, losing his Shooto lightweight title to Joachim Hansen in a narrow but righteous decision, then getting embarrassed by B.J. Penn at a Rumble on the Rock event a few months later.

Gomi recovered from his 2003 setbacks by signing with Pride and becoming the centerpiece of their “Bushido” events, which highlighted the lighter weight divisions and featured a set of special rules designed to deliver action. For Gomi, a trained grappler blessed with outlandish knockout power, especially in his hands, it was a perfect match. Gomi won five straight fights in Pride, including finishes of Charles Bennett and former UFC champ Jens Pulver, to punch his ticket to Pride Bushido 7 on May 22, 2005.

On that night, Gomi achieved one of the most significant wins of his career, as he flattened the Brazilian with a left hook-right hook combo and swarmed until he had to be pulled away by his cornermen. The win ran his post-Penn streak to six, and positioned him as a favorite in the lightweight tournament that would start in just a few months.

At that tournament, which launched at Pride Bushido 9 on Sept. 25, 2005, Gomi choked out Tatsuya Kawajiri in the quarterfinals, then defeated Azeredo via unanimous decision later that same night to advance to the final. That final took place at Pride “Shockwave” on New Year’s Eve 2005, and saw Gomi crush Hayato Sakurai to win the grand prix and become Pride’s first and only lightweight champion.
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