Japanese MMA star Rin Nakai: “I’d rather die than not be able to return to the UFC”
The Japanese MMA star and fan favourite Rin Nakai is determined to make her way back to the UFC.
Nakai had a surprisingly difficult start to her UFC career, especially considering the promotion’s documented interest in the Japanese MMA market. She made her debut with an impressive record of 16-0, and faced off against Miesha Tate in her very first fight in the octagon. Tate won the bout comfortably, and later went on to defeat Holly Holm for the womens’ bantamweight championship.
Yet another difficult matchup in the form of Leslie Smith resulted in Nakai’s premature departure from the promotion in March 2016; however she bounced back quickly with a dominant TKO win over Emiko Raika in Pancrase just a few months later. Since parting ways with the UFC, Nakai has been steamrolling her competition, racking up nine straight wins – all finishes. Her record currently stands at a formidable 25-2.
The Japanese star is a fan favourite internationally both for her dominant performances as a fighter as well as her risqué photoshoots outside of the cage. According to Nakai, the photoshoots started after repeated requests from fans, with whom she has a good relationship.
“What started it was, I felt willing to do just about anything to generate interest (for my fights), as long as I could fight and compete. So I wanted to live up to what the fans wanted, and when I thought about what I could do (to achieve that) it seemed easy. The fans really wanted it, so that’s what I did.
“The backflips after the fights were for the same reason. It was to celebrate the win with the fans.”
Now she, and many of her fans, are clamouring for the UFC to give her another chance to prove herself in the world’s leading MMA promotion.
“I was still lacking in experience during my first stint in the UFC,” Nakai told MMAnytt. “There were a lot of things that I didn’t know. The UFC is an American promotion, but it’s not just American. It’s an international promotion and the biggest (MMA) organisation in the world.”
Nakai feels that she didn’t have the opportunity to prepare sufficiently for her octagon debut. This time she wants to make sure she’s as ready as can be.
“I think it’s important to get used to things and to prepare properly,” Nakai explained. “I don’t know anything (about what it’s like in the U.S). The reason I can’t (make the transition) is because I don’t have any money currently, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to go to the U.S eventually.”
Nakai is a skilled grappler, having started training judo at the age of three. However, during her time in the UFC, it became clear that her striking wasn’t quite up to par. That is far from the case today.
“Since losing in the UFC eight years ago, I’ve been working hard on my striking every single day. I’ve trained a lot, and won several matches, so I have confidence (in my striking) now. I definitely want to show that in the UFC. I’ve only lost in the UFC. Since (leaving the promotion) I’ve won all of my fights.”
Considering her impressive performances in the years since her UFC departure, 36-year-old Nakai feels optimistic regarding a potential return to the promotion.
“I think my relationship with the UFC is good, and I think it’s possible that I could return to the promotion. I’ve recently signed with Iridium Sports Agency, and I believe in them. The president, Mr. Jason House, is an incredible person.
“I’m being doubted because of my age. I have confidence in my abilities. I’m a strong fighter. So if I continue to win, my age shouldn’t be an issue. There are a lot of female fighters who are older than I am and active in the UFC, so I don’t think my age should be a problem.
The UFC is a meritocracy, and it’s the strongest promotion internationally, so I don’t think anyone but a UFC champion could be considered a world champion. I think I’m in a position where if I don’t get a UFC belt, I can’t be considered the best in the world.”
Despite being a top-ranked female fighter internationally, Nakai feels that her career will never be complete without UFC gold. That’s why she has a clear and passionate message for the promotion’s president Dana White.
“I’d rather die than not be able to return to the UFC. I’ve been training hard every day, focusing on my diet, nutrition, and putting in a lot of work. All for the sake of getting to the UFC and becoming a champion. It’s what I’ve been training, eating, sleeping, and living for. Please, let me compete for the UFC. I’ll show that I have what it takes.”
In order to achieve her goals, Nakai wants to keep putting on shows for her fans.
“I want to fight and show who I am, so that’s what I’m hoping to do (for the fans). With help from fans I believe I can stand and perform on a world stage.”
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Nakai hoping to buck the trend: “There are almost no Japanese fighters that live off of MMA”
For her next fight, Nakai will take on Aoi Kuriyama in the Japanese promotion Deep Jewels on February 18. After that she’s free to move on to bigger and better things. While Nakai isn’t underestimating her opponent, she does see the bout as preparation for a future transition to American promotions, primarily the UFC.
“I don’t really think I need to prepare for this fight in particular. I’ve just assumed that my next fight (after the Deep Jewels one) will be in the U.S., so I’ve been training (with that in mind). So I haven’t been training for my next fight per se; I’ve been training for my future fight in the U.S.
“My prediction is if I go with the flow, I will win the fight.”
If Nakai were allowed back in the UFC, it would be huge not only for her career, but also for the Japanese MMA scene in general. Currently, Japanese MMA fighters aren’t enjoying the same kind of success internationally as they once did. According to Nakai, that won’t change until fighters are able to support themselves on the sport full-time.
“Unlike international fighters in the UFC, there are almost no Japanese fighters that live off of MMA. Most have a day job. Because of that, the time and energy left for training at the end of the day is reduced, and they can’t develop (at the same rate as UFC fighters). So their real ability can’t shine through.
As a pioneer in Japanese female MMA, Nakai has had to deal with some pushback from her compatriots.
“I only do MMA, so fighters who have to work a day job can be jealous of me and tend to bad-mouth me. Even though I’m doing a good job, very weak fighters who will never accomplish anything and have no worth, make a lot of accusations towards more experienced, popular, and stronger fighters such as myself and Usami Kancho.
“These people know what it’s like to lose, so they won’t fight me. They won’t spar me. They keep ducking me, so even without fighting me they’ve acknowledged that they would lose, but still they bad-mouth me. A fighter that won’t take on a challenge like that isn’t worth being called a fighter. They’re way behind me in terms of skill, so they have no right to criticise what I’m doing. I’m way more experienced than they are and have paved the way (for them) with my accomplishments. I’ve put in tons of effort and they should respect that.
“For Japanese female fighters, MMA needs to become a proper job. I think that’s important. Additionally, Japanese female fighters don’t treat it as a proper sport. Sportsmanship and how younger athletes should treat older athletes and vice versa isn’t a priority. (The sport) is viewed as entertainment, or so it seems. They hurl insults like in pro wrestling. I think there needs to be more of a focus on competition and improving competitively.”
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