After Takanori Gomi’s sluggish UFC debut against Kenny Florian in March, it was easy to assume the Japanese sensation had come to the organization too late in his career to make a significant impact.
Then came the right hook that face-planted lightweight contender Tyson Griffin on the mat Sunday in San Diego.
The knockout at 1:04 of the first round served notice “The Fireball Kid” could be a factor in the United States.
Even Gomi, 31, who was awarded a $40,000 bonus for knockout of the night, wasn’t so sure of that before Sunday.
“Yes, there was (doubt) just in terms of fighting in the States,” he said through an interpreter. “I’m established at home, but I was wondering, ‘Am I really going to make it here?’ ”
While that remains to be seen, his performance certainly means he will get an opportunity.
Gomi said the loss to Florian was a learning experience.
“You’re a little bit more relaxed the second time around. There might have been pressure, but there was actually more relief than anything else,” he said, adding he came over from Japan about a week before this fight to get acclimated.
It also helped that Griffin challenged Gomi’s punching power by standing in front of him.
“Tyson’s a tough guy. If he was going to stand up to me, I was going to stand up to him,” Gomi said. “We were pretty much going to duke it out. I wasn’t surprised. That’s what he does.”
Gomi, a star in his homeland, drew an uproarious reaction with his spectacular knockout. He said he has his sights set on increasing his popularity in America.
“It’s sort of up to the fans, but I think they’re fair and if I fight my fight and display my power, I should win them over,” Gomi said. “Today the reaction seemed very positive.”
■ UFC 117 CARD COMPLETE — The UFC has turned to newcomer Todd Brown to fill in for Thiago Silva as Tim Boetsch’s opponent on the preliminary card of UFC 117 on Saturday at Oakland, Calif.
Silva injured his back and was forced to withdraw.
Boetsch returns to the UFC after going 3-0 in smaller promotions. He was 2-2 in the UFC until being released last year after a loss to Jason Brillz.
Also, Phil Davis was added to the card to fight Rodney Wallace. Davis replaced Stanislav Nedkov, who was injured and unable to make his UFC debut.
UFC 117 airs live on pay per view at 7 p.m. Saturday. The main event features Anderson Silva defending the middleweight title against Chael Sonnen.
■ BELCHER OUT – A detached retina caused middleweight contender Alan Belcher to pull out of his scheduled fight with Demian Maia. The bout was scheduled to headline the Ultimate Fight Night 22 card on Sept. 15 at Austin, Texas.
Belcher broke the news on his Twitter account Sunday, apologizing to fans and Maia. A replacement opponent for Maia has not yet been named.
■ COUTURE GOES PRO — Local fighter Ryan Couture, the 27-year-old son of UFC legend Randy Couture, has turned pro and will debut against Lucas Stark on a Strikeforce Challengers card Aug. 13 in Phoenix. The event will air tape-delayed on Showtime.
Couture had a 5-1-1 record as an amateur, with all five wins by submission. His last amateur fight was a draw against Sean Bollinger at The Orleans in March.
■ TUFF-N-UFF CARD — The locally based amateur organization will put on a card Friday at The Orleans.
The event features the semifinals of both the 125- and 135-pound women’s tournaments and a pair of title bouts.
Chris Holdsworth and Anthony Gutierrez will fight for the 135-pound belt, and Jimmy Jones and Jon Gorton will meet for the 145-pound title.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509.