James Nakashima fights Shinya Aoki on January 22nd at ONE Championship: Unbreakable. These two lightweights will test skills at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore.
Nakashima is going to lightweight on the heels of contending for ONE’s welterweight championship. Below are several excerpts from my recent conversation with Nakashima.
You’re switching divisions here…What kind of inspired the move to a different division?
“It was what I thought we were originally gonna do when I signed with ONE Championship. Until I got my first bout agreement for ONE, I didn’t know that…welterweight is actually 185. And then you have to weigh in hydrated two days in a row…It’s where I want to be and where I should be. And then once I got to ONE, and I continued to win, we thought that a title fight was right around the corner.”
“If I would’ve won that last fight, I would’ve still dropped down. I might have even just vacated that ’85 pound belt and just hopefully, I would have got a title shot right away at this new weight. Just would’ve stayed down here, because this is really where I belong. I only walk around at 176.”
Takeaways from that title fight performance against Kiamrian Abbasov
“He’s a tough guy. I thought I was winning the whole fight pretty sound. How I always have my entire career. And I made a mistake. I actually made a couple mistakes on that one interaction. And I got clipped with that knee and it was over. But I just look at it like, my life is fine. I love my life. I’m pretty grateful for it. I feel like it’s almost a fairy tale. Everybody makes mistakes, you know.”
“I just feel like everybody makes mistakes. I made a mistake. I’m over it. I tried to use that as like a crucible and come out of it stronger. Made some different changes in my life. I feel like I’m a stronger person now. I’ve capitalized on that loss.”
Shinya Aoki and the ONE Championship lightweight elite
What’s your familiarity with Aoki’s skillset?
“I just remember watching that fight against (Ben) Askren back whenever that actually happened. And then I remember him fighting Christian Lee because I had signed with ONE during that period. So I knew of him and it’s kind of a short notice fight. They just asked me like, five weeks out if I was ready to go. And I was like, I’ve been really disciplined with my diet and training and everything.”
“And I think it’s an awesome opponent. Awesome fight. Good learning ability and a big win. So I’m excited. He’s a unique fighter, he’s pretty much one of the last specialists. Specialists pop up every once in a while but he’s pretty much a total Grappler.”
Where an Aoki win would put him in the lightweight contendership hierarchy
“I go out and I make a statement in this fight, I don’t see why I don’t get a title shot or I get Eddie Alvarez right away. I want the best. At this point in my career I know I’ve only got 13 fights, but I want the best. That’s the way you learn and obviously, that’s where the money’s at. Fighting the best and fighting for the belt. That’s what I want.”
Thoughts on ONE’s lightweight talent pool
“Christian Lee has a ton of heart. I’d love to fight him. Eddie Alvarez proven, you know, he’s a UFC champion and he’s a Bellator champion. So I mean, that’s a great opponent. (Timofey) Nastyukhin he’s on a winning streak, he knocked out Alvarez. That’s a great opponent. I think I got those three on my radar right now.”
The training situation for James Nakashima throughout the global pandemic
“I understand the Coronavirus, and what it’s done to a lot of families and occupations. I have friends that have lost their jobs throughout it. And for me, the way it’s affected this MMA for me, it’s been nothing but totally positive. It took a year and three months between the (Yushin) Okami and (Kiamrian) Abbasov fights.”
“That was probably the hardest thing. But I really used that time to just kind of reinvent myself. The gym shut down a couple times. And I kind of started taking training into my own hands. And it got me out of an old routine that I don’t think was as productive as what I’m doing now.”
The MMA Lab
“So now I’m mixing in a little bit of the (MMA) Lab with a little bit of my own training. Really getting more technical with my training, really focusing on the details and the technique. A lot of the work I feel like we get at these big super gyms is a lot of cardio. Really hard sparring type work, which I think that’s great work. But I think really slowing down the technique and getting back to your identity. That’s kind of where I got to.”
“Honestly, when the gym shut down, we got this nice carport and I live in Phoenix. So the weather’s beautiful all year round, got some mats for free. And me and my friends just started training right away out back. That’s kind of where I developed that technical stance. That reinvention.”
Grappling and Striking basics really leveling up the overall game for James Nakashima
“That last fight against Abbasov I feel like you could really see it in my striking. I was doing some nice counters. That’s how I broke his nose in the first round, was just really controlling the standup. Pretty much the whole fight was through this training I’ve done out back. Just really understanding my identity and my fundamentals. And then like again this Aoki fight, I think it’s going to be the grappling.”
“Me and my friend have just been tearing apart the butterfly (guard), tearing apart the half guard. Really positionally understanding, I think that’s gonna come in big-time with Aoki because he’s pretty crafty.”
James Nakashima’s friendship with New Japan Pro Wrestling star Juice Robinson
“Two days before that championship fight, I sent him a text on WhatsApp. I told him ‘Man, this is the biggest moment in my life since 2009. And he was at my junior college wrestling championship where I won it. He was there and him and his dad and his brother drove up to Minnesota. Watched me win it and I talked to him two days before and I ended up losing. But I talked to him afterward and I was like, ‘it don’t matter I’ll be back stronger’.”
“I talk to him all the time. He’s one of my best friends. We’re on this journey together. He’s one of the main forces behind me getting into MMA. He kind of started pushing it in my head. What am I going to do after wrestling? And I was not a big fighter. Growing up, I’ve only been in probably a handful of fights. It was kind of different to me…His path was professional wrestling and my path was MMA.”
James Nakashima vs Shinya Aoki
I’ve heard from certain interviews with wrestlers where there’s that, I guess, maybe competitive muscle memory. Where they’re almost not oriented to striking just because it’s obviously a wrestling base kind of thing. Did you ever notice anything like that early on? And did you have to adjust accordingly at all or not so much?
“Wrestling season ended in March. And I remember in June, I was in my first Muay Thai tournament. I just jumped right in. I had been cross-trained in Muay Thai in Omaha..Since I was 21. Then I graduated when I was 23.”
“I was fucking scared shitless to strike from the open. I was just clinching the entire tournament. Took me about six fights to really start to relax and fight from the open. (Georges) St Pierre has been my guy forever and he’s complete. He strikes and grapples. So that’s who I’ve modeled my entire game after. I just feel like the longer I go in this game, the more it’s going to pay dividends.”
ONE Championship: Unbreakable
Usually, when I have fighters on I generally ask if there’s any music they’re partial to train to. Are there certain genres or artists that get you fired up? Or are you kind of just indifferent a little bit and whoever grabs the auxcord it’s kind of fair game?
“I constantly play this Alice In Chains unplugged 1996 album. I love it, man. Love that live acoustic. The kid who gives me crap about it, he loves Kendrick Lamar. And I kind of bought into Kendrick a little bit. I like rap. More like a Lil Wayne guy. I was digging LilWayne back in the day.”
Parting thoughts for James Nakashima
“I’d just like to thank my family and my team. All the support I have. I feel like I have a world of support and that’s just the main force behind everything.”
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.