Success in the cage has its perks, namely, job security and fan recognition.

But it also has its downsides. With each successive win, the competitive fire inside a fighter’s mind can transform into complacency without the fighter even being aware of it.

Jackson’s MMA lightweight Isaac Vallie-Flagg encountered this very scenario earlier this year. His gaudy, 12-fight, seven-year unbeaten streak came to a halt against Elias Silverio in January at UFC Fight Night 35.

Vallie-Flagg (Sherdog)

Vallie-Flagg (Sherdog)

“It had been a while since I’d lost. I wasn’t as motivated as I am now coming off a loss,” admitted Vallie-Flagg while speaking to The MMA Corner.

Despite falling short on the scorecards against the hungry, young Brazilian in Atlanta, the Strikeforce veteran didn’t deny his most recent opponent the respect he earned.

“He was a big, strong kid and he was good on the ground,” recalled Vallie-Flagg. “He forced his game plan on me and did exactly what he needed to in order to beat me.”

The fight with Silverio marked the first time in nearly two years that Vallie-Flagg wasn’t facing a notable name. After besting longtime veteran Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante in the Strikeforce cage and trouncing another decorated combatant in Yves Edwards in his Octagon debut, Vallie-Flagg seemed to be moving up the lightweight ladder and Silverio may have seemed like a bizarre choice of opponent. Yet, looking back, it turned into a lesson for the 36-year-old.

“I went into that fight thinking I was going to beat him,” declared Vallie-Flagg. “I underestimated him and didn’t work as hard as I should have. [I learned] not to underestimate anyone I fight.”

Although Vallie-Flagg may not have given his opponent enough credit, he may have given himself too much in the health department. Following the fight with Edwards, Vallie-Flagg was forced to withdraw from a planned contest with Sam Stout due to a back injury. After sitting out for nearly a year, he was confident he was ready to return to action.

“It impacted me a lot. I thought about it during the fight,” he said of the injury. “I wasn’t quite 100 percent. I could tell in that fight that I wasn’t that strong.”

The loss, coupled with the ever-present injury, ignited the competitive embers of the Michigan native.

“After that, I did some stuff with my strength and conditioning,” he explained. “I really worked harder because of that fight.”

Vallie-Flagg (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Vallie-Flagg (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Vallie-Flagg will now have a chance to put that hard work to use and see if his fighting fire has fully rekindled when he faces off with former Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi at UFC 172 on April 26 in Baltimore.

“He’s just another fighter in front of me,” Vallie-Flagg said of “The Fireball Kid.”

“I just want to beat whoever is in front of me, legend or not. It’s not anything different that I haven’t seen before. I fought Yves and JZ Cavalcante. Those guys are just as tough as Gomi.”

Gomi has long been considered one of Japan’s greatest fighters. With dynamite in his hands, he’s scored more than a dozen knockouts in his career. However, Vallie-Flagg has never been stopped with strikes.

“I’m content to keep it on the feet,” he proclaimed. “I’d like a ‘Fight of the Night’-style brawl, but we’ll see where it goes.

“That being said, I don’t want to stand and trade with him. The idea of just standing there and taking punches from a guy and punching him back is not a smart idea for the longevity of your brain.

“Hopefully my head movement will be better in this fight and I can impose my will on him.”

So what would extinguishing “The Fireball Kid” mean to the lightweight and his future in the UFC?

“It would be huge,” he said. “I’ve been a fan of Gomi for a while. Just to get in there is pretty cool, then to beat him is going to be even more cool.”

With his loss and injury behind him, Vallie-Flagg may be the one throwing fireballs come Saturday night. And he’s willing to brave the inferno to get back in the win column.

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