Keita Nakamura built quite a career for himself in his home country of Japan after an 0-3 stint in the UFC from 2006 to 2008. Eighteen fights, fourteen wins, a couple titles. It was a nice run.
But when approached to fight in the UFC once more in 2015, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse if he wanted to truly show the fighter he had become.
“One of my important objectives has been that in order to showcase what I’m truly capable of to the public, I needed to come back and fight again under the banner of the best MMA organization in the world, which is, of course, UFC,” Nakamura said.
It’s an admirable desire, one that marks the Tokyo native as a true martial artist, and when he returned last September, his wish became a reality, as he submitted Li Jingliang in the third round, picking up Performance of the Night honors in the process.
Yes, the rear naked choke that ended 14 of his 31 victories was still there, but Nakamura clearly wasn’t the same fighter he was in 2008.
“I admit that I was merely a grappler back in 2008,” he said. “However, I came back now as a well-rounded fighter.”
Willing to slug it out on the feet or work his magic on the mat, Nakamura let the world know that at 31, he’s a threat to the welterweights of the UFC, and that while some of his veteran peers may fall victim to complacency, he’s not one of them.
“I’ve stayed positive,” he said when asked how he keeps fighting fresh for himself over 12 years after his pro debut in 2003. “I always tell myself that it is critical to refine my skills and techniques and make progress all the time, as the MMA world has always been advancing. I focused my attention on my goal to be a better fighter and to come back to the UFC and produce the best possible results.”
A finish and a bonus were the best possible results for Nakamura or any returning fighter, but with that bout out of the way, expectations are high for his next one against Tom Breese on Saturday. The UFC FIGHT PASS main card bout is being watched around the MMA world, mainly because Breese has looked spectacular in his first two Octagon outings – knockout wins over Luiz Dutra and Cathal Pendred. The unbeaten Brit is someone not many folks are offering to fight, but Nakamura stepped up to risk his five-fight winning streak in London.
“Based on Tom Breese’s fight record and the bout order for this event, I understand that he is one of the most promising fighters from the UFC’s point of view,” he said. “However, if I defeat such a fighter, I think my expected value from the UFC will rise. Therefore, this is an important bout for me to shape my future.”
So how does Nakamura derail the Breese express? It won’t be easy, but having seen and done it all in the game over the years, “K-Taro” has some ideas.
“Tom Breese is a big guy and his striking is strong and heavy, so I think he will take advantage of these things and constantly put a lot of pressure on me,” he said. “But the important thing in this fight is that I keep fighting at my own pace, not his.”
As for the benefit of having 40 pro fights gives Nakamura, he says, “I think other than the size and power that he possesses, I am superior to Tom Breese in any area.”
That’s a veteran talking, and after winning his first UFC bout last September, Nakamura’s confidence is high.
“Since I successfully made a contract with the UFC again, my goal is to climb the ladder by winning one fight after another, move up the welterweight ranks, and then become a welterweight champion.”
Now that’s a story we wouldn’t expect to have heard in 2008. But in 2016, anything seems possible for Nakamura, and he’s ready to write it for himself, and for his fans.
“They (the fans) can expect me to be on a win streak made possible by my rear naked choke.”