If you had to give one word to describe Gabriel Gonzaga what would it be?
Does the word inconsistent ever come to mind? If it does, you’re not alone. Gabe Gonzaga was your prototypical Cinderella story. After winning numerous championships in BJJ and 4 of his first 5 pro fights he was asked to join to UFC. He surprised some by winning his first 3 fights in the octagon, but remained an unknown.
That was until they brought in Pride sensation and Heavyweight legend Mirko Cro Cop to the UFC. The plan for Cro Cop was simple. Give him a couple tune up fights inside the cage, get him used to it and give him a title shot. Cro Cop easily disposed of American Eddie Sanchez and was given Gonzaga was to be his next victim.
No one gave Gonzaga a chance as he entered the fight as a 5 to 1 underdog at UFC 70. In fact, most fans had never even heard of Gonzaga. You probably know the rest of the story. Gonzaga hit Cro Cop with one of the most devastating head kick knock outs in MMA history in the first round and a star was born. (If you’ve never seen it, you likely started following MMA yesterday).
Call it a lucky kick. Call it skill. Call it whatever you want, but the UFC was calling on Gonzaga to face the champion Randy Couture in the main event at UFC 74. With less than 9 fights under his hat Gonzaga got into the cage with one of the best fighters in the history of the sport.
Gabe looked dominant at times, like when a second round high kick hit Couture in the wrist and shattered it. He was able to out strike Couture for some of the third round, until finally Couture took him down and beat on him. Gonzaga’s nose was busted and blood was pouring down the back of his throat as the referee stepped in to call the action at 1:37 of the third round. He put up a great fight, but his critics say he quit in the end.
His next fight was even worse at UFC 80. Facing a top 10 heavyweight in Fabricio Werdum Gonzaga seemingly gave up in the second round and let Werdum punch him while he lay with his head on the mat for several seconds until the referee stopped it. He didn’t look to be in much trouble and the loss raised questions about his heart. With all his skills, did he have what it takes?
His next two fights were cake walks submitting journeyman Justin McCaully at UFC 86 and knocking out Josh Hendricks at UFC 91. He is working his way back up the ladder and as Gonzaga hopes – back to a title shot.
His opponent at UFC 96, Shane Carwin, may be his toughest test to date. Carwin is an incredible athlete and has never lost at 10-0. His wrestling background is tremendous, he has to cut down from 280 to make the 265 lbs weight cut and if his fight ends quick he could be a participant in the Arnold Bodybuilding show that same weekend.
But the toughest test for Gonzaga may just be his own mental game. When he’s on his game he’s arguably one of the top 5 heavyweights in the world. When he’s not, he is beatable and Shane Carwin will have no problem walking through him.
Which Gonzaga will we see at UFC 96? If he can beat Shane Carwin convincingly we may have to change the one word to describe him to two words – Future Champion