Rinya Nakamura arrived in the Road to UFC tournament with four pro wins and a decorated resume as a wrestler, but some wondered whether he was ready for the prime time stage he was about to step on.
Two first-round finishes over Gugun Gusman and Shohei Nose later, we have our answer. He’s ready and in the tournament final against Toshiomi Kazama this Saturday, but when it comes to those early wins that introduced him to the UFC fanbase, he says don’t read too much into them because he’s not.
“Honestly, I value the process more than the result,” Nakamura said. “First-round finishes look good on paper, but when I think about the process point of view, I’m just getting started.”
He is. And that’s the right attitude to have, because if a young fighter thinks he knows it all before he does, the awakening is quite rude. But Nakamura has a good head on his shoulders and it was there when he was approached about fighting in a tournament for a UFC contract.
“I thought I needed more time to prepare for the UFC stage,” he said. “However, since the offer came, I changed my perception to ‘I’m here, so I will rise to the occasion.’”
Nakamura has delivered, but then again, he’s not your stereotypical up and comer, having grown up in his father’s gym, surrounded by MMA fighters. In fact, his life’s path was practically determined as soon as he arrived nearly 28 years ago.
“I knew 1,000 percent,” when asked if he always knew he was going to be a fighter. “It was my parents’ decision the moment I was born.”
As he was growing up, it was a good time to be an MMA fan in Japan, with some of the sport’s greats competing at home on a regular basis. These days, it’s been tough going for the scene, something Nakamura hopes to change.
“I was enthusiastic about going to Shooto and PRIDE every time in my early days, but unfortunately, I feel something is missing lately,” he admits. “I’d like to do everything I can to help invigorate the sport in my home country.”
Getting a spot on the UFC roster will be a good start, and Nakamura can secure his place with a win over Kazama in the Road to UFC bantamweight final.
“He is a serious fighter who chases straight to the finish, and I think his grappling techniques make him dangerous,” Nakamura said. “It’s a very exciting matchup for us and the fans.”
It is slightly bittersweet, though, as Nakamura will be facing his countryman with a lot on the line not just for the combatants, but the Japanese MMA scene, as well.
It’s better to have a non-Japanese opponent because I want all of Japan’s fighters to succeed,” he said. “When I step into the cage with you, I’m trying to keep my opponent’s dreams away from them, and that’s not something I’d like to do to another Japanese fighter. I think the result will be cruel for him, but I think both myself and my opponent will get something big in our hearts from this fight. I want to give back to Japanese society what I have gained someday, and I’m sure he feels the same way.”
If you get the impression that Nakamura isn’t intimidated by the stakes and the stage, that’s accurate, but he believes a healthy dose of pressure is a good thing, too.
“By committing my ‘life-or-death’ mentality to this fight on the day, I think I will be filled with gratitude to my family, coaches, teachers who raised me, people who practiced with me, and friends who supported me,” he said. “I’m fighting for more than myself. There is a lot of pressure, but I’m ready for it.”