George Sotiropoulos Out, Eiji Mitsuoka Meets Takanori Gomi at UFC 144

George Sotiropoulos (Esther Lin/HeavyMMA)

‘Fireball Kid’ looks to snap two-fight skid vs. UFC newcomer

An injury has knocked George Sotiropoulos off the UFC 144 card in Japan later this month, and a promotional newcomer will step in to replace him.

Eiji Mitsuoka will face Takanori Gomi when the promotion returns to Japan for the first time since 2000. The UFC recently announced the change to the card. The Gomi-Mitsuoka fight will take place on the preliminary card.

Mitsuoka (18-7-2), a Dream, Deep and Sengoku veteran, has won four of his last five fights, and five of his last six wins have come by submission. The Japanese fighter has fought almost exclusively in his home country throughout his career and holds a notable victory over former Dream champion Joachim Hansen.

Gomi (32-8, 1-3 UFC) has struggled since signing with the UFC in 2010 with three submission losses, including back-to-back setbacks against Clay Guida and Nate Diaz last year. His lone UFC victory was a first-round knockout of Tyson Griffin in 2010, making him the first fighter to knock Griffin out. But a loss to Mitsuoka would be three straight for “The Fireball Kid,” a Japanese legend in Pride who has lost five of his last eight – and could be on the UFC’s cut list if he loses this month.

Sotiropoulos (14-4, 7-2 UFC) also is in danger of that deadly three straight losses scenario. After starting his UFC career 7-0, putting him within sight of a shot at the lightweight title, the Australian fighter was upset by Dennis Siver in front of his home fans at UFC 127 in Sydney. He followed that up with a 59-second knockout loss to Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 132 last July. Now he’ll be on the shelf a while longer with his injury.

UFC 144 will take place Feb. 25 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, just north of Tokyo. The main event features a lightweight title fight between champion Frankie Edgar and top contender Ben Henderson. The co-main event features a light heavyweight bout between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, who fought in Japan for years for Pride, and Ryan Bader.

Also on the card, Yoshihiro Akiyama battles Jake Shields at welterweight as Shields tries to snap his two-fight losing streak, and in a lightweight contenders fight, Joe Lauzon meets former WEC champion Anthony Pettis. And at heavyweight, Cheick Kongo faces Mark Hunt.