Tony Loiseleur at Sherdog has posted a very informative, if cryptic interview with PRIDE lightweight champ Takanori Gomi, the "Fireball Kid".
Some insight into the strange business practices of the Japanese:
"What exactly will be the theme or shape of your interview?" Gomi asks.
I explain that the Western MMA community has been curious as to his status in the past nine months, and where and when they will see him fighting next, now that PRIDE has changed hands and has since been unable to continue.
For better or worse, the word "contract" comes up during my explanation, prompting the beginning of a long and delicate negotiation of information that, until now, has only been anecdotally referred to by those in the business who have attempted time and again to bring Japan's best and brightest fighters to compete in the West.
"I can't really comment on the specifics of my contract status," he replies quickly. "The situation is a little too delicate, right now."
I ask if he can elaborate, but once again he is wary to volunteer much information.
"To be honest, we can't really disclose the specific terms of his contract," Ichikawa says, "mostly because of its vagueness and our likewise unclear relationship with the new PRIDE entity. Thus, our position has become somewhat complicated."
In an attempt to reword the question and ask why he hasn't simply followed in the footsteps of his PRIDE peers -- Mirko Filipovic (Pictures), Mauricio Rua (Pictures), Dan Henderson (Pictures) and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures) -- I bring up the example of fighters who have opted out of their contracts to compete in other organizations.
"PRIDE invested very much in [Gomi]," Ichikawa says. "As Gomi is the lightweight champion of PRIDE, he is also the symbol of PRIDE, so his position is very different from everyone else."
The implication, though unsaid, is clear.
I guess I'm your typical dense gaijin because the implication is anything but clear to me. Is Gomi to proud of PRIDE to fight elsewhere? Is he afraid of the Yakuza elements linked to PRIDE and won't leave their clutches? Help a white man out here.
He does hint that he'd like to fight in the UFC and that they've approached him.
Gomi chimes in regarding the UFC deal as well as Dana White's open challenge to PRIDE's fighters to prove themselves in the Octagon. "Actually, I'm honored to have been offered the opportunity," he says. "I'm ready for that -- ready to prove that I'm still the best in the world."
He also assesses the competition at 155:
"If it's possible someday, of course," he says. "I want a third belt. Sherk is a top fighter for sure. He's very strong and has great control, both from on top and against the cage. I think that in order for me to fight him, I'd need to step-up my weight training and get stronger to match his strength. I hate the idea of being taken down and put on my back, but Sherk looks like the type of fighter who is so strong and stiff, it would be easy for me to maneuver my way up underneath and keep the fight standing. He is indeed an elite-level fighter, but I can beat him."
He seems to be more concerned about his chances against current HERO'S lightweight tournament champion, Gesias "JZ" Calvancanti:
Anyway, read the whole thing, he talks about the unified rules, the differences between MMA as spectacle and sport, Nick Diaz, drugs and much more. Maybe the final closing of PRIDE will finally free the Fireball Kid to come fight in the USA. Maybe not. We'll see.