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Shots After The Bell: The light heavyweight division is getting interesting again

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With Jon Jones out for a few years, the future is looking brighter for some UFC Japan fighters at 205 pounds.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Saki vs da Silva Susumu Nagao-USA TODAY Sports

Last night was UFC Fight Night 117, a card held at the legendary Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan. But if you weren't told that by the announcers, you may not have noticed. The UFC sure doesn't spend much time transporting you to the fascinating corners of the globe they travel to .. this event looked almost exactly the same as last week's event in Pittsburgh or the week before in Edmonton.

There was some local flavor on the card, with the prelims featuring Japanese and Korean fighters who only tend to pop up on Fight Night cards across Asia. Out of that group, Teruto Ishihara and Dong Hyun Kim managed to separate themselves from the pack as potential stars, should the UFC put the effort into developing them as such (and differentiating this lightweight Dong Hyun Kim from welterweight "Stun Gun" Dong Hyun Kim). Then there's Gokhan Saki, who is no stranger to fighting in Japan. Let's talk about him.

In A League Of His Own

Friday night marked the arrival of K-1 killer Gokhan Saki to MMA, and while he had a few issues in his first fight in the UFC, I think he shows mountains of promise. In a sport where 'bad kickboxing' sums up a large swathe of the striking you're going to see, he showed you what good kickboxing looks like. His punches were accurate and hard, each one landing exactly where Saki wanted it to. Effortlessly, as well. Luis Henrique da Silva was unable to do anything about the incoming barrage and left the fight with half his face a dark lump of bruises.

Sure, Saki got visibly gassed the moment the fight passed the three minute mark, which is how long a kickboxing round lasts. That exhaustion allowed da Silva to nearly make a comeback near the end of the first round. But Gokhan dug in and let fly with a wild duo of hooks that left his opponent dazed on the canvas. He also managed to stay on his feet through nearly the entire contest, which is apparently a tribute to the work he's been doing with Turkish wrestlers, exactly the kind of thing a K-1 crossover fighter needs to be doing.

Saki entered into this fight coming off a two year layoff and looked pretty great. Sure, he didn't look perfect. But he might in another year or so. I'm completely on this guy's hype train, and you should be too. Even if he doesn't manage to make it up to top contender levels, he's going to terrorize the rankings at light heavyweight and heavyweight for a long time to come.

Saint Preux Choke

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Okami vs Saint Preux Susumu Nagao-USA TODAY Sports

And let's talk about another 205 pound fighter in Ovince Saint Preux. You have to temper anything you read out of this latest impressive performance on account of the last minute switch to Yushin Okami, a middleweight fighter that earned his return to the UFC off recent wins at welterweight. What chance did he have without time to study and prepare for Saint Preux, who is not only an unorthodox and tricky fighter but also known for his crazy strength?

Still, the hallmark of a great fighter is he doesn't hesitate when he has the advantage. Okami used to give a lot of highly skilled opponents fits, but Saint Preux blew through him with ease, methodically pushing the fight through to his favorite checkmate move: the Von Flue choke.

UFC commentators joked that it should be renamed the Saint Preux choke, and there may be something there. How many times does a guy have to pull off a notoriously rare submission in competition at the highest level before he gets to lay claim to the name?

It's been a good year for Saint Preux following a brutal 2016 where he lost to a murderer's row of Jon Jones, Jimi Manuwa, and Volkan Oezdemir. This is his second win of 2017, and his second via Von Flue choke. Some may be dismissing OSP as a potential 205 pound contender due to all the recent red on his record, but the guy is only getting better. Maybe things will click for him and fall into place, maybe they won't. But it's going to be exciting watching to see how high he can rise.

Don’t Call It A Comeback

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Gadelha vs Andrade Susumu Nagao-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of evolving fighters that may still rise to the top, how about Jessica Andrade? The first round of her fight against Claudia Gadelha went exactly how most people expected it to, with Claudia a bit faster and crisper with her striking. But that speed advantage disappeared in the second as Gadelha fatigued and it was all downhill from there. Andrade unleashed an ass whupping few predicted she had in her, lighting Gadelha up on the feet and muscling her out with apparent ease against the cage. She even threw in a bevy of slams for good measure.

The performance earned both women Fight of the Night and gave Andrade a much needed boost as far as fan perspective goes. No longer is she a woman on the way down in the division, a gatekeeper for fighters to prove they're ready for Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Now she's someone who is only getting better, whose time as a champion may still come. Dan Hardy asked her what she felt she needed to do to beat Jedrzejczyk in what many are now thinking is an inevitable rematch. But the issue may not even come up.

It's widely known that Joanna has her eyes on the 125 pound belt and whatever poor TUF winner ends up holding it at the end of 2017. Once she wins that, the 115 pound will be up for grabs. And Jessica Andrade looks like she's more than capable of taking it.


MMA: UFC Fight Night-Gomi vs Kim Susumu Nagao-USA TODAY Sports

If there's anyone who needs to pack it up or at least move to the quasi-existent world of a Legends league, it's Takanori Gomi. Gomi certainly fits the description of a legend, having spent a decade at the very top of the Japanese lightweight division during the country's MMA golden age. But that was a long, long time ago. Ten more years have passed since then, and his record over this latest decade of fighting is 8-11-1 (or 8-12 if Nick Diaz wasn't such a madman when it comes to marijuana).

If Bellator matchmaking was in effect, Gomi would be fighting names from early TUF seasons, other aging greats, and maybe some Gracie or tenuously-associated-to-the-Gracies fighter. Instead, he got (the other) Dong Hyun Kim, a hungry young fighter who dropped Gomi in just over a minute and beat him into the fetal position.

There are no easy fights in the UFC, but let's be clear: this wasn't a Yair Rodriguez situation where the promotion fed the aging star to a young lion. Gomi should have stood a chance against Kim, the same way he should have stood a chance against his last opponent Jon Tuck. Instead, he got run through like a hot knife through butter.

I'm all for keeping star fighters that have lost a step or two on the roster, if only so there's a couple more familiar faces on cards like this UFC Fight Night from Japan. But Gomi isn't delivering much more than his name at this point. In his past five fights, Gomi has made it past the halfway point of the first round just once, and it was only by three seconds. He can't hang with the best, he can't even put up a decent challenge as a gatekeeper any more. What's left for him in the UFC? CM Punk?