Ryan Schultz: Sherdog.com

New gym, new weight class and a fight back home in the United States.

Those are the changes Ryan Schultz, the former lightweight champion of the now-defunct International Fight League, looks to make after more than a year away from the cage. Schultz last competed at Sengoku “Tenth Battle” in September 2009, suffering a first-round knockout loss to Kazunori Yokota. It was the Nebraska native’s third straight loss since signing a five-fight contract with the Japanese promotion.

During the layoff, Schultz left Oregon and Team Quest, his home since 2003, to open a training center with UFC veteran Ed Herman in Fort Collins, Colo.

“I’ve known Ed since 2003 when I moved to Oregon,” he said. “We were kind of talking out there about starting a gym there in that area. I’m from Nebraska originally, but I had a house in Colorado [just outside of Fort Collins]. I decided to move back to this area to be close to my home. I’ve got kids and stuff -- grandparents and all that. It just seemed like the right time to do it. And Ed decided that he was looking for a change, so we decided to start our own thing and go from there.”

The gym, called Trials MMA and Fitness, held its official grand opening on Oct. 1 and has accumulated approximately 30 students in its first month of business.

“Whatever level you’re at, we pretty much have a class,” Schultz said. “We have a pro team, and we have an amateur team, as well. We’re looking to get involved with it all.”

Schultz, who owns wins over Aaron Riley, Chris Horodecki and Roger Huerta in his MMA career, is also ready to end his hiatus from the cage -- albeit in a new division.

“I’m definitely thinking about coming down to 145,” he said. “I think I can make it. I can compete with the best guys in the world at that weight class. We’ve been talking to [WEC matchmaker] Sean Shelby a little bit. The WEC, now they’re merging with the UFC obviously, [and] hopefully they have some slots where they can put me in there. I might have to go win a few fights first so they can look at me again.”

Schultz has two fights remaining on his existing Sengoku deal but hopes to get a chance to fight on his home soil for the first time since 2008, when he defeated Deividas Taurosevicius in what would be his final 155-pound title defense for the IFL.

“I just haven’t had really good luck over there in Japan,” he said. “I want to fight in front of the U.S. crowd again and just get back on my feet to see where I’m at with things.”

Schultz remains at a loss when it comes to explaining his stint with Sengoku, which started with what looked to be a decent shot to win the promotion’s lightweight tournament. Looking back on a three-fight stretch that resulted in three devastating losses, Schultz questions his thought process.

“I was a huge favorite. I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I made a mistake. I got knocked out in my first fight [against Mizuto Hirota]; I hadn’t lost in almost two and a half years, and I went back over there and fought 20 days later against [Jorge] Masvidal. I probably shouldn’t have fought. In the States, they wouldn’t have let me fight. I got knocked out. You’re at least getting a 30-day suspension.”

Schultz admits he made a mistake.

“I think I should have taken more of a break just because I went from world champion ... I knew I was a heavy favorite to win the tournament, and then I got knocked out,” he said. “I don’t think I dealt with the loss real well ... I’m coaching guys -- I wouldn’t allow one of my fighters to get knocked out and fight 20 days later.”

Schultz has healed physically and mentally since then.

“I’m training pretty hard right now, so I’m in good shape,” he said. “I haven’t been getting dinged or anything. I haven’t fought in a while, so I’m pretty itchy to get back in there.”

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