Undefeated welterweight contender James Nakashima has not competed inside the Circle for more than a year, but that does not mean he’s been wasting his time on the sidelines.
In fact, the American has wisely used that time to reinvent himself while eyeing a challenge for the ONE Welterweight World Championship.
Welterweight contender James Nakashima ???????? remains undefeated with a POWERFUL unanimous decision win over Japanese legend Yushin Okami!????: Check local listings for global TV broadcast????: Watch on the ONE Super App ????http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp
Posted by ONE Championship on Friday, August 2, 2019
Nakashima suffered an injury during the three-round contest, but he battled through it en route to a unanimous decision victory.
The 31-year-old American nearly submitted Okami with a neck crank in the opening stanza, dropped him with a left cross and unleashed his smothering top game in the second frame, and then outworked the Japanese athlete in the final round to cap off a stellar performance.
“Deep down, looking at where my game was, the Okami fight was a good fight for me,” the MMA Lab representative says. “I thought I maybe could have had the finish, but it didn’t come.”
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After that pivotal win, the U.S.-based grappler reviewed the footage and recognized where he could improve his game.
With that newfound knowledge, he traveled to Milan, Italy, to round out his skill set alongside ONE Featherweight Kickboxing World Grand Prix Champion Giorgio “The Doctor” Petrosyan.
He then returned home to MMA Lab in Phoenix, Arizona, where he continued sharpening his techniques and fixing holes.
“I had a pretty bad MCL and ACL sprain in the Okami fight, so that took about three months to heal, but I still trained through it as much as I could. I spent about half of that time in Italy with Team Petrosyan. It was my third tour out there, and it kind of healed out there,” Nakashima says.
“Overall, I didn’t like where my game was at. I didn’t like where my stand-up was at. I didn’t like where my ground game was at, in terms of being able to finish people. David Michaud, Benson Henderson, my main training partners, and a couple of division-one wrestlers helped me out a lot.”
Soon, there was another obstacle to overcome. As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses across the United States, Nakashima no longer had the luxury of training at MMA Lab or even a fitness center.
Still, he was determined to continue improving his skills while staying in the best shape possible.
“I decided to take that into my own hands,” Nakashima says.
“I got my own mats, and I got this nice carport out [in the] back of our house. I have some of my friends come over every day, and we just run those stand-up drills that we run in Italy. I’m happy with where my game’s at and where I’m going.
“I feel like since early March, I’ve built a foundation with really simple, basic techniques in jiu-jitsu, stand-up, and wrestling. I work a lot of boxing with my coach, and during [the lockdown], me and my coach were still able to do individual workouts once or twice a week.
“But I feel like the importance of me just taking the initiative that the coronavirus forced me to take, to work on the things that I needed to address, I feel like I reinvented my game.”
Armed with that self-confidence, Nakashima is eager to return to action. This time, he has the welterweight division’s reigning king, Kiamrian “Brazen” Abbasov, in his sights.
The Kyrgyz warrior has been on an absolute tear since losing to Luis “Sapo” Santos in his promotional debut.
“Brazen” ripped through Malaysian sensation Agilan Thani with a first-round submission in December 2018, finished Okami via second-round TKO in May 2019, and overwhelmed then-titleholder Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam en route to a unanimous decision victory and the ONE Welterweight World Championship last October.
Nakashima has paid attention to Abbasov’s string of success and would love the opportunity to challenge him for the gold.
“He’s a really tough, hard-nosed fighter,” the American offers. “I think he’s kind of green, technically. He has a lot of power and explosion. I’m ready to go. I’d love to fight him.”
Abbasov feels the same.
This past June, “Brazen” expressed a desire to defend his belt against the American and thinks the two would have “a great fight.”
While Nakashima agrees, he also believes he can break the Kyrgyz star and claim the coveted ONE Welterweight World Title.
“I’ve done everything I can. I’ve beaten the person he lost to (Santos). I’m next in line,” the unbeaten American says.
“I don’t think there’s any way anybody in the world, let alone Abbasov, can hold me down. His stand-up is powerful, and it’s going to be the most important part of the fight for me.
“As far as pace, he ain’t going to be there for 25 minutes. I’m going to be there because he just doesn’t want it as bad as I do. It’s that pace and pressure that’s special that I’ve developed.”
It may be only a matter of time before Nakashima returns to the Circle and gets the chance to show fans around the world just how far he’s come.