Just over a year ago, James Nakashima was undefeated and next in line for a title shot in ONE Championship. However, his next two appearances showed how quickly things can change in the fight game.
Nakashima lost a title shot in November 2020, as his strong performance against Kiamrian Abbasov was abruptly stopped in the fourth round due to strikes. The bout was the first time he lost as a pro.
He then appeared only two months later against veteran Shinya Aoki. That fight was a sudden win for Aoki, as he was able to get on the back of Nakashima and submit him in the third minute.
The two losses made Nakashima feel a way he had never previously felt in MMA.
“Immediately after the [Aoki] fight I was kind of lost. I didn’t know exactly what happened. I had never been ran through like that before,” said Nakashima in an interview with Knockdown News. “I think that I’m as good an MMA fighter as there is in the world, so it was pretty devastating for me.”
The loss made him take a step back. He spent an entire year outside of competition, training around Phoenix, Arizona, USA, in hopes of bettering his skills.
While he maintains that notable gym The MMA Lab is still his “base,” Nakashima said he also spent time grappling with Augusto Mendes and training with GLORY Kickboxer Nick Chasteen.
After all that time off, Nakashima feels refreshed and ready to return to action. “I needed that year off,” he said. While some fighters try to make up for lost time after a year out of the cage, Nakashima doesn’t feel that way. He said that the time he took to grow was necessary and that he has “no regrets” on the decision.
His improvements will be tested on Friday, as he will meet promotional newcomer Saygid Izagakhmaev at ONE Championship’s “Heavy Hitters” event.
Win or loss, the growth of Nakashima won’t stop with this camp. The former LFA Welterweight Champion is planning a big lifestyle change in 2022, moving his family out to Italy and training at the same gym as ONE kickboxer Giorgio Petrosyan.
Nakashima previously spent three months at the gym before the COVID-19 pandemic and hopes a full-time move there can allow him to improve his striking.
“I believe in my grappling. I think that Aoki fight was a fluke … I think going to Petrosyan’s gym would be a good piece to the puzzle. He’s one of the greatest of all time and I like the way that he does it. I like the intimacy of the gym.”
Since his two losses, Nakashima has described a “shift in perspective” regarding what he wants from a fight. He used to focus on winning no matter the outcome. But recently, he has changed his priorities to also thinking about how those performances go.
“When I was undefeated, it was important to win, keep my undefeated streak and become champion. And now that all of that is gone, it’s time to think a little bit bigger,” said Nakashima. “I’ve always had trouble finishing people. Over the past year, I’ve tried to reinvent my game a little bit to where I can start to get those finishes [and] have the skillset to finish people.”
Nakashima still maintains the fact that he sees himself as one of the best fighters in the world. But his new outlook on fighting seems less attached to chasing a title or a high status in the sport. It weighs the importance of making his career something that will last.
“We gotta stop thinking so small about winning and losing. Because it’s bigger than that, it’s bigger than me. I’m trying to create a masterpiece.”