James Nakashima thought a ONE Welterweight World Title shot would be awaiting him following his most recent victory.
However, instead of getting a crack at the belt, he has been given the opportunity to face a mixed martial arts legend. That has made the rising star just as satisfied.
The undefeated American will square off against Japan’s Yushin “Thunder” Okami in a welterweight showdown at ONE: DAWN OF HEROES, which takes place at the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines on Friday, 2 August.
“I do want that World Title shot, but [the matchmakers are] keeping me active, and I appreciate that. It will come. I’ve just got to keep chipping away and my World Title shot will come,” Nakashima says.
“They’re keeping me active and keeping me on great cards like this. I’m grateful and really excited, and Yushin Okami is a big name himself. I’m not disappointed at all. I’m pretty excited.”
It was undoubtedly his biggest challenge to date, as the veteran brought his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt expertise, his immense knockout power, and his vast competition experience into the battle.
Santos pushed Nakashima in the opening round, as he successfully defended from the American’s high-level wrestling attack and peppered him with a plethora of heavy punches and fierce kicks.
“I thought the second round would come and he would start slowing down, which it seems like he always does. It never got to that,” the 30-year-old Arizona resident explains.
“Once the second round started, he hit me with a good hook and he went for a leg kick. I timed it with the takedown, and he said that he hurt himself on that takedown. That was it.
“If the fight kept going, I think he would continue to slow down and I would continue to take over. It’s kind of how a lot of my fights go.”
When Nakashima returns to the Philippine capital to face a legend, he knows he will need to be at his very best.
The American’s bout with Okami will be the most difficult assignment in his career, and for good reason, too.
Ever since making his professional mixed martial arts debut in September 2002, the Japanese warrior has competed in some of the world’s most popular organizations and defeated many of the sport’s biggest names.
In February, he signed with ONE Championship with the intention of making a run at the ONE Welterweight World Title.
Though he was foiled in his promotional debut in May, the black belt judoka feels re-energized ahead of the pair’s tilt in the Mall Of Asia Arena.
Nakashima, who trains at The MMA Lab in Phoenix, has studied his opponent very well.
He knows Okami will bring veteran experience, a 10-centimeter height advantage, and a larger body frame into their battle in Manila.
However, the former NCAA Division I wrestler is armed with top-notch grappling skills and an enhanced striking acumen from arguably the greatest kickboxer of all-time, Giorgio “The Doctor” Petrosyan. In fact, he hopes to unleash more of that stand-up prowess on 2 August.
“Yushin is a big welterweight. He is not so much a striker, but he is a good grappler. He will strike, too,” Nakashima says.
“[For me, it’s about] getting more comfortable with my stand-up and allowing myself to get touched. Getting into a little bit of a boxing match is something that’s been a huge growth experience for me. I think that’s going to be big playing into this fight.
“I just need to be really fundamental and really smart. I’ve seen some tendencies in his game that I have to be aware of and be ready for.”
A victory in Manila would push Nakashima’s perfect slate to 12-0 and move him even closer to the ONE Welterweight World Title opportunity he craves.
However, should he not be granted a shot at Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam‘s belt next, then he hopes to face another world-class martial artist.
“I’m totally focused on Yushin, but if I don’t get the World Title shot, I want Cosmo Alexandre,” the American says.
“I wanted Cosmo this fight. I told my [manager] if I don’t get Zebaztian, then I want Cosmo.”
Perhaps he will get one of those two welterweight juggernauts next if he wins at ONE: DAWN OF HEROES.