James Nakashima tests skills with Saygid Izagakhmaev on January 14th at ONE: Heavy Hitters. This lightweight collision takes place inside Singapore Indoor Stadium.
I spoke with Nakashima ahead of this clash and excerpts from our chat are below.
The localized importance of winning in Singapore here and how that reminds him of past competitive stretches
“It’s a huge trip. So yeah, just being comfortable and familiar with the trip like that’s a big deal. But this whole Singapore thing to me, reminds me of my collegiate wrestling. I had trouble. I had trouble getting the home win at the University of Nebraska in the Coliseum. Took me a couple of years to finally get that home win. And then actually when I first started my pro debut, I had a fight in Lincoln.”
“At the same arena that we used to wrestle in and I won that fight against Chance Rencountre. So I feel like in Singapore, I’ve had trouble getting a win here. So that’s the number one thing that’s hanging on my mind. To go back and I got to go back to get this win in Singapore.”
The main takeaways for James Nakashima from his Shinya Aoki fight at ONE: Unbreakable
“Not to take away from my (Shinya) Aoki. He’s an incredible, incredible MMA fighter. But I would love to have that fight back. I feel like I just didn’t show up for that fight. Feel like I took it too quickly after that title fight, trying to chase my losses. To go in there against somebody like Aoki, you got to be 150% ready to go. I didn’t show up. It wasn’t me. It was definitely a fluke. That’s why I needed to take this full year. Really just get back on the wagon. And I switched some things up and just getting comfortable again. Getting ready to go out there and do me.”
“Because the (Kiamrian) Abbasov fight was nothing like that’s fine. I was winning that whole fight in my eyes and I got clipped with the knee. It was bad, but nothing like Aoki. The Aoki fight was a disaster. That will never happen again in my career. And that’s what you’re saying about things that I learned. I think that’s the most important thing. If you’re going to do this, you got to be 150% ready. You can’t can’t go in there underestimating. I feel like I was underestimating Aoki just taking that fight. Five weeks after my title fight, and then taking the fight on five weeks’ notice. Short notice fight against Aoki. I think there’s that underestimating.”
“There wasn’t much game-planning going into it. And looking back on that fight, I think Aoki really outsmarted me big time. Just his whole game plan. What he was trying to do. Just for the little three-and-a-half-minute fight, I took a lot away. I just think that’s kind of just what I am. I’m always trying to soak in as much as I can.”
ONE Championship Lightweights
This bout being another permutation of the Russian wrestling stylings versus American wrestling approach
“Yeah, I love that. Because that’s what I thought with the (Justin) Gaethje vs Khabib (Nurmagomedov) matchup. I was like I believe in the American wrestler. But obviously, I was totally wrong you know. Gaethje doesn’t work any grappling, I guess. I don’t know. But it’s just, I feel like I kind of got away from my grappling looking back on it too. Like I wasn’t training as efficiently as I could have been over the last few years. I didn’t even know about this opponent this whole year.”
“So I was just really just doing this stuff to improve myself against any opponent. I get what you’re saying. I feel like all this work is gonna definitely help to translate into this fight, in this particular matchup. But I was just doing it just to try to get better. And I definitely want to impose my grappling on him. Whether it’s offensive, defensively. I was just trying to find a way to get better. Those two losses really really affected me a lot. I couldn’t keep doing the same thing.”
“Just with the whole Coronavirus and everything had kind of just a little bit of a paradigm shift in my training. Being aware really, how good was my grappling? How good is my stand-up? You go train with a Glory kickboxer, you find out real quick how good your stand-up is. You go train with Tanquinho (Augusto) Mendes and some of these really good grapplers that I have been training with, you find out how good your grappling is. I just made these changes and trying to get better. I just stuck with them and it seems like they’re gonna pay off.”
The 2022 goals for James Nakashima
“It’s all about the Russian right now. In terms of MMA and a fight beyond this, I’m not too focused on that. Me and my family, we’re going to move to Italy in 2022. That’s a big deal. We’re going to go out and I’m going to go train with (Giorgio) Petrosyan. But besides the training, it’s deeper than that. I have a four-year-old daughter. I think to expose her to Italian culture for a couple of years, for myself for a couple of years, my girlfriend, I just think it would be a really strong experience to go over there. Our goal is two years.”
“I don’t like setting stuff in stone because you know how life is. Who knows? We can end up being there for five years. I don’t know. That’s a big goal of mine. So right after this Russian fight, you know, I gotta get cracking down on learning my Italian. I can already speak a little bit of Spanish. I spent three months over in Italy with Petrosyan before the COVID, I had been working on my Italian quite a bit. So it’s not terrible. I got some big things coming up in 2022.”
ONE: Heavy Hitters
If opponent Saygid Izagakhmaev has stylistic deviations from his mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov
“Yeah, I would say he’s a little bit more well-rounded. I mean, I don’t think anybody can even compare anybody’s grappling to Khabib (Nurmagomedov). I think Khabib is one of the greatest grapplers to do it. So I think to compare anybody’s grappling to him is kind of silly. But I think his stand-up is a little bit better than Khabib. I think also like the mentality. Think he takes a lot of that away from Khabib too. I see a lot of pressure fighting. See a lot of owning positions, not giving up positions. I think they’re similar, but I think this guy likes to stand a little bit more.”
Parting thoughts for James Nakashima
“I’d just like to thank everybody. Thank my team, thank Nick, thank The (MMA) Lab. Sugar Sean (O’Malley) and Tim (Welch) for the opportunity to train over there. Done a lot of work to my game over the last year. Thank my family, for supporting me and I love this stuff. I’m excited for this fight. It’s been a good year off. I needed the year and I appreciate everybody’s support throughout it.”
I’ve been enamored with combat sports for as long as I can remember. I’ve hosted MMA talk shows Lights Out and Pure Fight Radio with featured guests like Jens Pulver, Roy Nelson, Miesha Tate, Mark Coleman, and more. I’ve been an MMA broadcaster for XFFC as well as BTC and have done play by play commentary on live pay per view on GFL as well as FITE TV. I’ve provided written, audio, and video content covering some of the biggest MMA promotions like Rumble in the Cage, Unified MMA, and King of the Cage. I’ve worked as a sports entertainment personality for over five years and given play-by-play or featured promotions of KSW, ONE Championship, TKO, and Invicta FC. My work can be found in the USA Today Sports affiliate MMA Torch, Cageside Press, MMA Sucka, and Liberty Multimedia.