Former Pride FC lightweight champion and posterboy, Takanori Gomi, was a consensus top-ranked lightweight in the world as recently as 2008 -- some even branded "The Fireball Kid" the best in the business.
That status quickly changed, however, when Gomi dropped back-to-back fights at the hands of Sergey Golyaev and Satoru Kitaoka under the World Victory Road banner.
Critics quickly jumped on Gomi, saying he was protected throughout his career when the Japan-based promotion was in its heyday. In addition, it was suggested that he lacked motivation and top-flight competition to still be considered among the world's best at 160 pounds.
Fast forward to the Shooto: "Traditional Final" event on May 10, 2009, which proved that he may very well have a lot left in the tank -- Gomi thoroughly dominated Shooto Welterweight Champion Takashi Nakakura from the opening bell, dropping him in the second round to record the knockout victory.
Could this impressive performance signal the rebirth of his career and be a sign of future success?
It's possible. And if it does it could very well happen outside his native Japan -- Gomi has his sights set squarely on the United States mixed martial arts scene. In fact, rumors swirled over the past few weeks regarding Gomi potentially fighting against Brett Cooper at Affliction: "Trilogy" on Aug. 1.
However, the two sides could not come to an agreement regarding the weight limit. Affliction Vice President Tom Atencio publicly announced that the match up was off, but at the same time gave no indication as to what would happen next in regard to Gomi's fighting future stateside.
So we went right to the source to get the skinny on the situation. That's right, the "Fireball Kid" took some time out of his busy training schedule and contract negotiations to speak with us to answer a few burning questions.
Check it out:
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Now that the (Brett) Cooper fight was called off can we expect your next fight be in Japan or in the United States?
Takanori Gomi: My next fight will be in the U.S. Now we have several offers from some promoters, including, of course, Affliction. We are considering all those offers right now. I am willing to have a fight in the U.S. as soon as possible. I want to show the U.S. fans my fighting spirit.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Has the UFC ever been in contact with you about potentially joining its organization going forward? If so, how did those discussions go?
Takanori Gomi (MMAmania.com): We do have their offer and we are in the middle of discussion.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): What is the motivation for you wanting to come to the United States and fight at this stage in your career?
Takanori Gomi: My motivation is to innovate myself.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Will you be moving your training camp to the United States? If so, who will you train with and where?
Takanori Gomi: Basically, I will keep my training in my gym (Rascal gym in Kanagama, Japan). Occasionally, I would like to train at Xtreme Couture or Wanderlei Silva’s gym. They have all been great to us. We have great relationships with each other.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Who are some of the other lightweights that fight in the United States who you are interested in matching your skills up against and fighting?
Takanori Gomi: I don’t mind who is coming.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Is a rematch with UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn something you would be interested in?
Takanori Gomi: Of course I am.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Recently, Caol Uno and Yoshihiro Akiyama joined the UFC. Both fought in Japan for many years. Do you think this migration will continue to be a trend in the future?
Takanori Gomi: I have no idea.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Overall, what is the impression of the UFC over in Japan? Do the Japanese fans and the fighters who fight in Japan think highly of the UFC or are there certain aspects of their business operation they don’t care for? Give me a general sense of how the UFC and their President Dana White are perceived in Japan.
Takanori Gomi: I think the UFC is already popular among the Japanese and will be much more popular in the near future. We don’t know his (Dana White) personality that well so we don’t care much about that issue.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Most media publications in the United States had you ranked as the top lightweight in the world prior to your losses against Golyaev and Kitaoka. Are you still the same fighter we saw dominate the Pride FC organization a couple of years ago?
Takanori Gomi: Of course I believe I am. I’m sure that I’m on the same level as I was back in those days.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): What do you have to say to your critics out there who believe you can no longer compete with the best lightweights in the world or the ones who feel you lack motivation at this point in your career?
Takanori Gomi: After winning the (Takashi) Nakakura match my motivation is to the max. I can prove that the critics are wrong.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): If you had to rank the top three lightweights in the world who would be on your list?
Takanori Gomi: Certainly B.J. Penn is the best. I don’t know who the others would be.
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Will you have another championship belt around your waist before you retire from fighting?
Takanori Gomi: I will! Check it out!
Derek Bolender (MMAmania.com): Is there anything you would like to say to your fans out there or any sponsors you would like to thank?
Takanori Gomi: I’m looking forward to seeing my fans. You can see the "Real Fireball" in the United States soon.
Derek Bolender is a staff writer for InsideFights.com. He is also syndicated at FoxSports.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/DerekMMAwriter and on Facebook. Look for future articles from him on MMAmania.com.