Kenny Florian is one of the top 155-lb fighters in the UFC.  He is 10-3 overall since making his promotional debut with a loss to Diego Sanchez at the Ultimate Fighter Season 1 Finale, and 8-2 since dropping down to lightweight.

He’s finished the likes of Joe Stevenson, Clay Guida, Joe Lauzon and Din Thomas, proving he’s among the elite in the division. But he faces the same problem that every other lightweight fighter in the UFC does: BJ Penn.

Florian jumps back in the cage for the first time since choking out Guida at UFC 107 when he takes on Japanese import Takanori Gomi (Wednesday, March 31, 8 p.m. on Spike). Gomi, the final lightweight champion of the now defunct Pride Fighting Championship is fighting in the United States for only the second time in his career.

Back in October 2006, Florian lost his lightweight title shot against Sean Sherk. It was just his second-ever fight at 155. After dropping a unanimous decision, Florian ripped off six straight victories to position himself for another shot. His second chance came against Penn, one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. He put up a valiant effort, but nothing he did fazed the champ, and Penn secured a submission victory in the fourth round last August in Philadelphia at UFC 101.

“It’s just at the point of my career, I feel that they were just the better guys,” Florian said to reporters, describing his two cracks at UFC gold.

The next challenge to Penn’s title comes on April 10 against Frankie Edgar at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi. With a lack of top level contenders, a win by Florian over Gomi could push him right back into a prime spot for another shot.

“I don’t make any of those decisions of who gets the next spot,” Florian said. “That’s not even on my mind. I think any time you look too far ahead, you can get yourself into some trouble, so I’ll just try to really stay focused on what I need to do strategy wise and tactically to beat Takanori Gomi.”

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Gomi’s only other fight on American soil came back in 2007 when he was submitted by Nate Diaz at Pride 33. The decision was later changed to a no contest after Diaz tested positive for marijuana after the fight.

Gomi expressed slight concern about the different rules he will be fighting under inside the octagon as compared to in the ring in Japan. One big thing Gomi will have to deal with is elbow strikes, which are outlawed in Japan, but a big part of Florian’s arsenal.

With the top of the lightweight division in flux, this fight will go a long way toward determining who gets the next title shot. Both fighters are prepared for battle.

“Gomi is very, very fast. He has knockout power on both of his hands, and I think you always have to prepare for the worst case scenario,” Florian said. “I know obviously the fight starts standing, so I’m prepared to go all 15 minutes standing if I need to. I think it will be a great fight, fight."

 

@NewsdaySports