Ulysses Gomez (9-3) is entering the prime of his career, but he's also at a crossroads. Gomez lost in his UFC debut last August, and he didn't take the loss lightly. At age 29, Gomez understands that he has to make his move up the flyweight division ladder before time runs out on his career. That's why Gomez recently quit his job at the Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas and became a full-time fighter.
He made this decision to pursue his dream of becoming a champion after watching his older brother, Herculez Gomez, become a star on the U.S. men's national soccer team. Now Herculez motivates him as he prepares to enter the cage this Saturday, February 16, against Phil Harris (21-10) at UFC on FUEL 7.
"In the beginning, we were rivals, but now that we're older, it's not so much a sibling rivalry anymore," Gomez said. "I remember when he got called up to the national team for the World Cup, I was like, 'Man, this is everyone's biggest dream, to play in the World Cup when they play soccer, and if he can do it, then why I can't make the UFC roster?'"
For Gomez, it's not about one-upping his brother. Instead, he sees his brother's accomplishments as proof that his own dreams can come true. In fact, he's already made some progress on his career goals. Gomez did make the UFC roster, but his status with the company in tenuous. He's coming off a huge knockout loss, and if he drops his second straight fight in the octagon, Gomez could be released. However, instead of allowing the loss to affect him, Gomez has again called on his brother's example to motivate him for his fight this weekend.
"The good thing about our relationship now is that he's done a lot for me that I can't even begin to describe for you in my career, and he doesn't even train [for MMA]," Gomez said.
Gomez noted how his brother made the difficult decision to leave home at age 18 to play in Mexico. Herculez took a huge risk to pursue his dream, and he faced his own obstacles to accomplishing that dream.
"When he was 19 or 20, one of his own coaches, Sigi Schmid, told him he should quit playing soccer - that he's not any good," Gomez continued. "So you have this person you look up to telling you to quit, that it's not your sport. But he didn't quit; he stuck to his guns. He just taught me so much about sports in general, but especially this sport because you're only as good as your last fight."
Gomez may have found motivation in his brother's example, but that might not be enough to beat his opponent Phil Harris. Harris is an extremely well-rounded fighter who has recorded finishes in 17 of his 21 career victories, including 13 submissions. He also has the advantage of competing in front of his hometown fans for this fight. Gomez has a tough opponent in Harris, but he's confident that he can beat the British fighter.
"He [Harris] instead fought my friend, Darren Uyenoyama, and Darren beat him," Gomez said. "I'm pretty familiar with his style. It seems like he's pretty strong; he's pretty good in the clinch. He likes to throw that hook a lot. Not too many short rights, not too many kicks. He backs up a lot, which is something I can take advantage of, or I have to make him come forward, because he doesn't seem like he's comfortable doing that."
If Gomez is able to beat Harris, he'll move up the relatively short ladder towards a shot at the flyweight title instead of facing a possible release from the UFC. He knows that his weight class is full of opportunities, even though the division poses its own challenges.
"The flyweight division is a double-edged sword to where it's not deep, so you know it's two fights, maybe three, and you're in title contention," Gomez said. "On the flip side, because it's not deep, it's two or three tough fights before you get that belt. If you look at it, I think the UFC has 12, maybe 14 guys signed at 125 [pounds], and out of those of 14 guys, six to eight of them are in the top of the world, so there is no easy fight."
Gomez has some difficult opponents ahead of him if he wants to become a UFC champion, but after watching his brother earn his place in the U.S. national team's starting lineup, he knows that anything is possible with hard work. It's all about accomplishing his dream, and the road to making it become a reality begins this Saturday in London, England.
Derek Ciapala has been following MMA for 20 years. He has been published on Yahoo! Sports, UltimateApocalypse.com and multiple other websites. You can check him out on Facebook or on Twitter @dciapala.