Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga (11-6) got the harsh news just a day after losing a one-sided fight to the latest Ultimate Fighter Superstar: Brendan Schaub. He's dismissed. Thanks for playing. Adios.
At his best, Gonzaga was responsible for one of the most stunning head kicks ever landed in the UFC, a kick so hard and on target it dropper Mirko "Cro-Cop" Filopovic like a sack of potatoes (at UFC 70), nearly snapping the Croation legend's leg as he collapsed to the floor.
At UFC 121 Gonzaga was a shadow of what he once was, but he still did his best to hang with a future champion in Schaub. He's done nothing but fight top contenders lately, and he's been left in the end looking smaller and less evolved than some of the new heavyweight standouts. Whether it was losing three out of his last four appearances in the Octagon or just the way he looked on that given night, Gonzaga's been sent packing. It begs the question why. Why did he have to be told he was no longer wanted even though the men he lost to were pretty imposing in their own right and in their own league of talent and size (Shane Carwin, Junior Dos Santos, and Schaub)?
Gonzaga's been around since UFC 56 when he debuted (Knocking out Kevin Jordan with a Superman Punch with 21 seconds left in the third) with his only loss being against Fabricio Werdum, now a Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion and one of the only men to ever beat Fedor Emelianenko. It's a sad state of affairs to see the UFC cast Gonzaga away so casually now as if he meant nothing to the organization in the grand scheme of things. This man was one of their best warriors.
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Gonzaga was for much of his later career a Massachusetts-based fighter, and he blended into crowds so well in New England, especially with a little facial hair after a few days of skipping a morning shave. A Fight News Unlimited May, 2008 podcast interview almost never came to pass because it was hard to believe when someone pointed out Gonzaga standing in the middle of the arena at a Foxwoods grappling and MMA card. Gabriel brought some of his Team Link students to compete there. Gonzaga had no lines around him, no autograph seekers or fans asking to take pictures with him.
"That's not Gabriel Gonzaga, is it?"
That question needed an answer, but nobody else seemed to want to even ask the guy or approach him. Wouldn't he be angry, or at least offended? Asking Gabriel Gonzaga if he was really Gabriel Gonzaga was actually a whole lot easier than it should have been, albeit a bit embarassing. It was sort of funny because he is so mild mannered. We did a tape recorded interview at the end of that USFL show at Foxwoods:
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The quality is rough, but at one point the question was asked about the UFC throwing people out across the board, sort of like the league was adopting the "throw them out when they lose" attitude of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. Gonzaga reasoned on the side of caution and supported the team by explaining that there is an expectation on fighters to put on a show even in a losing effort. He wasn't thrown out of the league for losing to Randy Couture, because he fought his ass off and kept fighting on, even while breathing through a shattered, steadily bleeding nose.
It could be that Gabriel's just tired and the feeling was mutual about his walking away from the UFC. He and Marco Alvan are also great trainers, and they have a great concept and credo in Team Link, not to mention an intimate and extensive understanding of MMA fighting. They could truly create monsters and come up with the next generation of pound-for-pound best fighters in the league if given enough time and the right talent.
Whatever the reason, it was a true snub by the UFC brass to send Gonzaga out against the lions like they did and then throw him out when he didn't slay them. After Carwin and Dos Santos, Brendan Schaub came along as one of the best young prospects in the league facing a gun-shy Gonzaga who seemed to struggle against the incredible odds. The amazing reach and athleticism of the former pro football player Schaub won the day, but it looked every bit the mismatch it was. A better last-hurrah opponent could have been selected to make Gonzaga's last showing a much more even fight. Instead, the UFC chewed Gonzaga up and spit him out when he started tasting stale.
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