Takanori Gomi still has plenty of believers in his corner.
Roughly nine out of 10 users -- 92 percent, to be expect -- in the Sherdog MMA Pick’Em fantasy game project Gomi as the winner in his preliminary lightweight duel with countrymen Eiji Mitsuoka at UFC 144 “Edgar vs. Henderson” on Saturday at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Perhaps “The Fireball Kid” can rekindle some of the magic from his Pride Fighting Championships heyday, as he returns to his homeland for the first time since October 2009.
Gomi (32-8, 1-3) will enter the cage on a two-fight losing streak. The 33-year-old last appeared at UFC 135 in September, when he was routed and ultimately submitted by “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 winner Nate Diaz at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Wins over former two-division Deep champion Dokonjonosuke Mishima, onetime Shooto titleholder Hayato Sakurai and former UFC lightweight kingpin Jens Pulver anchor Gomi’s resume. He has secured 18 of his 32 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
A late replacement for the injured George Sotiropoulos, Mitsuoka (18-7, 0-0 UFC) will walk into his Octagon debut with plenty of momentum, having posted four wins in his past five outings. The well-traveled 36-year-old has not fought since July, when he defeated Bruno Carvalho by unanimous decision under the Dream banner. Mitsuoka owns notable victories over American Top Team’s Gleison Tibau, UFC veteran Brian Cobb and 2008 Dream lightweight grand prix winner Joachim Hansen.
Other Sherdog MMA Pick’Em trends for the UFC 144 “Edgar vs. Henderson” prelims:
• A staggering 93 percent of players expect Norifumi Yamamoto to dismiss Englishman Vaughan Lee in their bantamweight matchup. “Kid” has yet to taste victory inside the Octagon, having dropped consecutive decisions to Demetrious Johnson and Darren Uyenoyama;
• Riki Fukuda will enter his middleweight showdown with former WEC champion Steve Cantwell as a comfortable favorite, as 72 percent of participants expect the 31-year-old Japanese standout to emerge victorious;
• By a hefty 95-percent majority, users favor onetime WEC bantamweight title contender Takeya Mizugaki to defeat Chris Cariaso on the undercard. Mizugaki has won two of his three bouts since joining the Ultimate Fighting Championship, including a second-round technical knockout over Cole Escovedo at UFC 135 in September;
• More than nine out of 10 players -- 94 percent of them -- foresee Chinese export Tiequan Zhang taking care of business against Issei Tamura at 145 pounds.