by Ricardo Mendoza – MMAWeekly.com
Pride Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi will make his long awaited Pride U.S. debut on Saturday night when he takes on UFC veteran Nick Diaz, who moves down to lightweight in the biggest fight of his career.

Although Gomi went 3-1 in 2006, it wasn’t the greatest year for the first Pride Lightweight Champion. Regarded as the best lightweight in the world, Gomi now makes his way to Las Vegas in order to prove to the American audience that he indeed can back up his status as the best lightweight in the world. Gomi had a horrible start to 2006 after having a banner year culminating at Pride Shockwave 2005 where he won the Pride Lightweight Grand Prix by knocking out fellow card mate Hayato “Mach” Sakurai. Now Gomi looks to put 2006 behind him and start 2007 out with a bang by notching a victory over an established UFC veteran Nick Diaz.

Takanori Gomi has a 27-3 record in MMA and trains out of Team RASCAL with Nobuhiro Obiya.

Gomi is the #1 lightweight in the MMAWeekly Rankings. He is coming off a devastating knockout of Mitsuhiro Ishida at Pride Shockwave 2006. Ishida looked to stand with Gomi and that was the beginning of his downfall. Gomi landed a huge punch that dropped Ishida, Ishida scrambled hard to get a takedown and recover but Gomi was relentless, finishing him off with strikes a little over a minute in the first round of their non-title bout.

Gomi was coming off a lackluster defense of his Pride Lightweight Championship at Pride Bushido 13 against the man who defeated him to begin 2006, Marcus Aurelio. In what was easily Gomi’s worst performance from an entertainment aspect in Pride, he barley outworked Aurelio to take home a split decision in a boring fight.

At Pride Bushido 12, Gomi submitted largely unknown French lightweight David Baron. Gomi outworked Baron on the feet with crisper punches and nice body shots. Once the fight hit the ground Gomi was able to secure a rear naked choke to get a much-needed win after losing for the first time in Pride.

Marcus Aurelio upset Gomi at Pride Bushido 10 in his first fight as Pride Lightweight Champion. A non-title fight, Gomi looked to be unprepared and not in his best fighting shape. Aurelio got the fight on the ground and was able to finish Gomi with a side choke in the first round.

Gomi is an incredible 13-1 in Pride, but after becoming the Pride Lightweight Champion it seemed that he had lost some of the motivation that helped him get there. He now has a new challenge ahead of him, which is to conquer the hearts and imagination of American fight fans.

Gomi doesn’t see Nick Diaz as a UFC fighter, but sees him as a jiu-jitsu fighter and a Shooto fighter even though Diaz fought only once in Shooto, losing a decision to Kuniyoshi Hironaka back in 2002. After the fight was announced Gomi made several statements on his future and preparation for the fight. “The past is the past. I’m already thinking about the future”.

He resumed training on Jan. 9, which includes training with the Kokushikan University wrestling club, which also helped him to prepare for his last fight. “I’m making my body stronger, so I will be able to fight even stronger foreigners”. Diaz certainly fits the description, seeing as he will likely be the bigger fighter Saturday night having fought at welterweight for his entire career.

Diaz hopes that a move down to lightweight will propel him to the next big step in his career and a win over Gomi will no doubt do that for him. Gomi has stated that he would like to fight overseas for the first half of the year and lead the charge into America for Pride. On Saturday night, American fans will be treated to a show as they get the pleasure to see Takanori Gomi up close and personal against a fighter that will no doubt bring the best out in Gomi, in what should be an exciting fight.