Thomas Gerbasi, UFC – For years, Takanori Gomi’s name has been prominently mentioned when the subject of the best fighters in the world, pound for pound, was discussed. In 2010, “The Fireball Kid” will enter the UFC’s Octagon for the first time to make his long-awaited debut in the premier mixed martial arts organization.
By Thomas Gerbasi
LAS VEGAS, January 2 – For years, Takanori Gomi’s name has been prominently mentioned when the subject of the best fighters in the world, pound for pound, was discussed. In 2010, “The Fireball Kid” will enter the UFC’s Octagon for the first time to make his long-awaited debut in the premier mixed martial arts organization.
“I didn’t want my career to end before fighting in the most prestigious competition in the world,” said Gomi, whose arrival was announced during Saturday’s UFC 108 pay-per-view broadcast. “I want to challenge anything in life that gets me fired up. Right now, my challenge is to become the champion in the UFC.”
A former PRIDE lightweight and SHOOTO welterweight champion, Kanagawa, Japan’s Gomi has competed with the top international competition for over 11 years, first making an impact in mixed martial arts circles when he defeated the legendary Rumina Sato for the SHOOTO title in 2001.
From there, it was practically one big fight after another for Gomi, whose stellar wrestling ability and two-fisted knockout power thrilled fight fans. In 2004, he made his debut in PRIDE with a first round TKO of Jadson Costa that kicked off one of the greatest runs in the organization’s history. From 2004 to 2007, Gomi went 13-1 with 1 NC, defeating Ralph Gracie (with a PRIDE record six second KO), Jens Pulver, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Luiz Azeredo, and David Baron, among others, while winning the 2005 Lightweight Grand Prix that earned him the first PRIDE lightweight championship.
With his stint in PRIDE done, Gomi (31-5, 1 NC) has gone on to win four of his last six bouts, including two in a row, and now he feels that the time is right to test himself in the UFC.
“After fighting in major promotions such as PRIDE and SENGOKU, I became a free agent and fought the SHOOTO champion (Takashi Nakakura),” said Gomi. “Then, I just finished fighting in Vale Tudo Japan, and was considering new challenges. I'm getting to the age where I'm peaking physically, and training at the AKA (American Kickboxing Academy) Gym recently was a great motivation to make bigger changes in my career.”
In the UFC, Gomi will be consistently pushed by the best lightweights in the game, something he is looking forward to, as he respects the entire 155-pound roster.
“Starting with BJ Penn, I feel that all the fighters are at a high level,” said Gomi, who obviously has his sights set on the man at the top. Penn is also someone Gomi has a little history with, having lost in the third round to “The Prodigy” back in 2003.
“There's a lot to be learned from BJ's fighting spirit,” said Gomi. “Obviously my only goal is to get to his level, and this will be a great challenge to me as a fighter, to see if I can remain as a top level fighter. And of course it would mean a lot of become the champion, but I'm not looking that far ahead. For me, right now, the goal is to become THE UFC fighter and to fight in front of the fans here.”
Staying at the top of his game shouldn’t be an issue, given his recent victories and his desire to keep pushing himself in the gym and in competition. And if Gomi has his way, he may just be getting started in his MMA career.
“At my age I need to train harder than ever,” he admits. “But all I need to do is to do just that and continue to climb towards my goals. If I could, I would love to continue this career until I'm 60, like the famous Japanese singer Eikichi Yazawa.”
But what will the reaction be to his UFC signing back home in Japan, where Gomi has become a superstar and a staple of fight cards there?
“I have fans that want to see me in the USA, and I have other fans that want to continue to see me in Japan,” admits Gomi. “The only downside is my mother will complain that she won't be able to see the fights (smiles). I believe Japan's MMA will continue to be supported by young up-and-coming stars, like the Judo Gold Medalist (Satoshi) Ishii. But right now, I want the fans in the WORLD to enjoy my fights.”
They will. And if you haven’t seen Gomi in action before, we’ll just let him describe his style.
“I'm trying to become like (boxing star) Manny Pacquiao,” he said. “Charging forward with a flurry of punches.”
Looks like it’s going to be a fun year in the lightweight division.