An important lightweight battle helps line the main card when James Nakashima welcomes Saygid Izagakhmaev to the Circle at ONE: Heavy Hitters on Friday, January 14, in ONE Championship’s first event of 2022.
James Nakashima Excited for Saygid Izagakhmaev Match
All of the focus is on Izagakhmaev heading into the contest. The talented Russian is backed by Khabib Nurmagomedov, and everyone is waiting to see what his protege can do in his first bout on the global stage.
But Nakashima is not ready to give up his position. After back-to-back defeats to World Champion caliber competition, the American has retooled his game and wants to make a push for title contention in the new year.
The Arizona resident reflected on his lightweight debut against Shinya Aoki and understood what needed to change following the first-round submission defeat.
“I just think Shinya is really, really, really good, and I took that fight on a little bit too quickly after that [ONE Welterweight World] Title fight,” Nakashima told ONE.
“I just think, looking back on it, I was a little bit rattled after that title fight loss and trying to chase my loss. I just wasn’t mentally prepared to go in there and fight somebody like Shinya.”
With two consecutive losses, the 33-year-old feels the pressure to win. However, he is taking that pressure and attempting to create a diamond, as he is not folding beneath it.
“I embrace that pressure a little bit. I like that. I’ve always performed well when my back’s against the wall.”
“I’ve wrestled against John Smith. I’ve wrestled against Cael Sanderson. I’ve wrestled against Tommy Brands. I love that stuff.”
More important than the victory for Nakashima is how he performs at ONE: Heavy Hitters.
The recent losses helped to shift his mindset and think beyond his record after losing the undefeated mark that helped to earn him a title shot.
“For me, another paradigm shift is, like, I was undefeated, and it was important for me to win and keep my undefeated streak going because I thought that was special. And [I was] doing it by winning the LFA [Legacy Fighting Alliance] Title and defending it, and almost winning a ONE Championship World Title. But now, it’s different. I don’t have that anymore,” said the former Nebraska Cornhusker.
“Winning and losing is too small-thinking. Like, I need great performances, I need to finish this guy, I want to finish this guy, and it’s exciting for me. It’s a different outlook. It’s where I’ve tried to take my skill set over the last year. It’s what I’ve always tried to do, but I’ve really felt like this last year has been a big, big change. And that’s why I haven’t fought, because I needed this time to take a year off and to rebuild myself and rebuild my confidence.”
Even with a renewed focus, Nakashima understands the challenge that awaits him against a Russian with excellent grappling. The American athlete is expecting a grind inside the Circle and to battle it out in close quarters.
But he is not intimidated by Izagakhmaev or the all-time great who will be in his corner in Singapore for the match.
“That’s the thing. Like, I never put anybody on a pedestal. I don’t know. I see his grappling in his fights, and his grappling is solid. I mean, you can never compare him to somebody like Khabib, but we’ll see. There’s going to be some important moments in this fight and grappling situations, and I’m going to have to be very, very sound there,” said Nakashima.
“I love that Khabib’s going to be there, honestly. It’s like being in the gym, and it’s empty, rather than, like, you’re working out in the gym, and there’s a hot chick over there – it just makes you work out a little bit harder. I’m thinking maybe the same thing with Khabib. Maybe it subconsciously just takes me to another level performing in front of him.”
After taking a year off to refine his skills in every area, Nakashima expects to be the better athlete in each facet of the game. He also intends to finish and ruin the debut of Izagakhmaev.
“I’m a better striker. I’m a better grappler, too. I really think that I’ve done a lot of work in the last year. I’m an overall complete fighter. I’ve had these two losses, but, at the same time, I was five minutes away from being an undefeated World Champion. I know who I am. I know who this guy is. He’s really good. Like I said, this is going to be a fight of inches,” remarked Nakashima.
“I know it’s going to be grindy, because of the way that both of us fight. But I would like to have some really nice moments. I’ve been working this whole year to change my game a little bit to work toward the finishes, and I really got to get there at this point in my career.”
How does he intend to get the finish? Although he’s improved his striking, the grappler still envisions hitting the canvas and getting the tap.
“I can get around his neck somehow. Me around his neck. A high elbow guillotine or a rear-naked choke. That’s what I see.”
He will get a chance to bring that vision to life on Friday, January 14.
ONE: Heavy Hitters will air on the Bleacher Report YouTube channel at 5:00 a.m. EST/2:00 a.m. PST.