Ulysses Gomez will put his flyweight title on the line at TPF 8. | Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
Back when Ulysses “Useless” Gomez would enter -- and win -- the professional divisions in grappling tournaments as a teenager, he was often unaware of the level of competition facing him. A blue belt tapping black belts left and right? No big deal, says Gomez. What you don’t know can’t hurt you.
“Ignorance truly is bliss. A couple of those times when I would [compete against] some of those guys, I didn’t know who they were,” Gomez says. “And I would beat them -- or I wouldn’t beat them, but I would do really good against them. It was almost like I was so new in the game and so dumb that nobody told me I wasn’t supposed to win.”
These days, as the Tachi Palace Fights flyweight champion, Gomez recognizes the challenges he faces within the division. However, that cognition has not seemed to cramp his style.
The Los Angeles native has won seven of eight professional mixed martial arts bouts, including five via submission. On Friday, he will defend his crown against Darrell Montague at Tachi Palace Fights 8 “All or Nothing” in Lemoore, Calif. It will be his first fight with the California-based promotion since he won the belt with a unanimous decision over Luis Gonzalez in May.
Gomez tried his hand at 135 pounds, but a run in the Bellator Fighting Championships bantamweight tourney was derailed when he suffered a staph infection following a first-round triumph over Travis Reddinger in September. The Cobra Kai product was disappointed his Bellator stint was cut short, but he believes his best chance for success remains at 125 pounds.
“I think, realistically, I’m two to three fights away from being the number one-ranked guy in the world,” Gomez says. “Having the belt for Tachi Palace is great because I like fighting for them, and I like being their champion. But at the same time, I don’t just want to be the champion of Tachi Palace. I want to be known as the best fighter in the world so people are, like, ‘Tachi has the number one guy in the world at that weight.’”
Coincidentally, the promotion will also feature the world’s top-ranked flyweight, Jussier da Silva, in a clash against Ian McCall at “All or Nothing.”
“All the rankings have him No. 1. He’s undefeated. It’s kind of hard to deny him that spot, but, at the same time, I know we live in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world,” Gomez says. “When I get past Darrell and he gets pasts [McCall], I’d definitely love to fight him.”
First there is the business of getting past Montague. Like Gomez, the Chino, Calif., native hovers on the outskirts of the division’s Top 10, with victories in eight of his nine career bouts, including seven by knockout, technical knockout or submission. They share common opponents in Gonzalez and Chino Nicolas, though it is difficult to gain insight into their upcoming bout on the basis of those shared foes.
“He fought Luis how I fought him. The only difference is when I dropped Luis, I let him back up because I respect Luis’ ground game a lot,” Gomez says. “When Darrell dropped him, he went in for the kill. He capitalized on the mistake I made. He beat [Nicolas] on [a] decision, and I ended up submitting [him] within the first round. I have better submissions than Darrell. As far as his striking, he has a lot of knockouts, but I fought Rambaa Somdet [in my only loss], and Rambaa couldn’t knock me out. And I don’t expect Darrell to.”
Though Gomez’s campaign to be recognized as the best in the world is gaining steam, he might not even be the most accomplished Gomez in his family -- or his father’s favorite athlete, as Ulysses likes to joke. Herculez Gomez was a member of the United States soccer team during its run to the Round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup, and he has played professionally in Mexico and for Major League Soccer. Growing up just 13 months apart, the two brothers often found conflict with each other.
“If it was my birthday, [my parents] got him a present; if it was his birthday, they got me a present. We always kind of butted heads, just a lot of sibling rivalry, a lot of competition,” Herculez says. “I played soccer, but he wanted to do other things. He was actually a decent player, but I just think he was trying to find his own identity. I was the oldest of five [siblings]. You kind of want something to make your own, something to be identified with.”
The diversity of the pair’s athletic background can be attributed in part to their father’s love of both the pitch and the sweet science. Often, the Gomez household would host cookouts where friends and family would be invited to watch boxing pay-per-views. The elder Gomez also played soccer every weekend. According to Herculez, fighting and futbol are not all that different.
“We’re just survivors,” he says. “It’s just one of those things where soccer is an endurance sport, and I think it’s the same way with fighting. It’s about outlasting your opponent.”
During each of the last two offseasons, Herculez has taken the opportunity to see how the other half lives, participating in strength and conditioning drills at Cobra Kai.
“It’s apples and oranges,” says Ulysses when asked to compare his talents with those of his brother. “He’s more agile. He has real quick feet. I’m more of a strong bully type. If I tried running as much as he does, I’d probably fall over and throw up. As far as athletic-wise, I’d say he’s better overall. You can put him in any sport, [and] he’ll be good.”
The MMA-based sessions proved to be a test for Herculez nonetheless.
“When I work out with them,” he says, “I’m completely exhausted because I’m sore in places I never knew existed.”
With the disputes of their adolescent years in the rearview mirror, Ulysses now pays tribute to his older brother by wearing his soccer jerseys to the cage before each of his fights.
“It’s always an honor putting his jersey on because my brother’s one of my heroes,” Ulysses says. “My dad always wanted a professional soccer player. I could never be [that], but at least I could look like one when I walk to the cage.”
It was a move that humbled Herculez.
“It really makes you take a step back and realize how much of a person he’s grown into and how good and caring of a brother he really is,” he says.
Before he was wowing opponents on the mats with his jiu-jitsu prowess, Ulysses was teased by classmates about his name. Either unable or unwilling to pronounce the unique moniker, Gomez was dubbed “Useless” by his peers. As his career progressed, he informed Cobra Kai founder Marc Laimon of the nickname. The trainer loved it, and it stuck. Now, it has grown on its owner, as well.
“People take themselves too seriously,” he says. “They give themselves mean nicknames. That’s not what I’m about. I’m here to have fun.”
Perhaps just a few wins away from reaching the 125-pound summit, Gomez no longer needs to be in the dark about the credentials of his opponents. His resume speaks for itself. Having already introduced bantamweight and featherweight classes into its ranks, the UFC could eventually come calling with the addition of its own flyweight division. For now, Gomez concentrates on the task at hand.
“Until they make it official, my only focus is beating Darrell and remaining the Tachi Palace champion,” he says. “Because if Darrell beats me, nobody likes a loser.”
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