TAKUMI NAKAYAMA: The King Of Pancrase talks PXC debut, Shooto roots

After suffering two opponent changes for his Pacific Xtreme Combat debut in Manila on May 18, 2013, Takumi Nakayama, the current Featherweight King of Pancrase, might be a little concerned or confused about his preparation for the fight. But with more than 40 fights under his belt it’s clearly not something that’s bothering him. Two days before his clash with Johnny Pecyna in Manila at PXC 37, MMA-in-ASIA Correspondent John Merva spoke with Nakayama about his experience in fighting abroad, his drop to featherweight from lightweight, and his real love of MMA.

MMA in Asia: You have been associated with combat wrestling, is that how you started in MMA?

Nakayama: Actually, my first MMA fight was was in a promotion called Submission Arts Wrestling (SAW). After that I had one match in amateur Shooto and moved from Osaka to Tokyo where I took part in lots of events like combat wrestling. I wanted to be a professional Shooto fighter so I took up combat wrestling to improve my ground game.

MMA in Asia: What sort of training were you doing prior to your SAW debut?

Nakayama: I was working out at a boxing gym, an MMA circle (like a club in Japan) and at a judo dojo twice a week each.

MMA in Asia: You have a blackbelt in both Judo and BJJ, Would you describe yourself as mainly a grappler?

Nakayama: I have a 3rd degree judo blackbelt and gained my 2nd degree on my BJJ blackbelt this year so I guess I am a grappler!! However, when I compete in MMA I make sure I train all facets of the game.

MMA in Asia: Congratulations on the 2nd degree! What was it that originally made you take up martial arts?

Nakayama: Simply put, I just wanted to get stronger! Watching Royce Gracie in the early UFC events really made an impression on me and was a major reason for me taking up martial arts.

MMA in Asia: After your pro debut in 2000 you have fought in a number of different promotions and countries. Please talk to us a little about the highs and lows of your career.

Nakayama: Putting together a streak of 8 wins and 2 draws out of my first ten fights was a definite highlight but that was really because I didn’t come up against anyone that was as good as me at the time.

Winning the King of the Cage belt was also a high point but it meant I got more attention as a fighter and started fighting stronger and stronger opponents. I won some and lost some which didn’t help my record! After losing to Sasaki in Shooto by TKO I decided to make the drop to featherweight and since then I haven’t lost a fight (4 wins, 2 draws).

MMA in Asia: So you feel featherweight is your true weightclass? How is the cut to feather?

Nakayama: Yes, I definitely think it’s the right weight for me. When I was fighting at lightweight I wasn’t really cutting weight, now I walk around at about 72 to 73kg and drop to 65.8kg. Cutting weight is never fun but it’s just part of the job!

MMA in Asia: Could you please talk about how it felt to be crowned the King of Pancrase?

Nakayama: When the news that I was dropping to featherweight was published on the internet, Pancrase called with an offer to fight for them. After consulting with my manager I entered Pancrase with the intention of becoming the King so I really increased my training and managed to get the title.

When I stopped fighting at Shooto it almost felt like a part of me had died so getting the offer from Pancrase almost felt like being reborn, a second lease of life. That feeling was so precious and motivated me so greatly that getting the belt was amazing!

MMA in Asia: So, as King of Pancrase, you are now going to appear at PXC 37. Is Pancrase usually happy for its fighters to appear at other promotions?

Nakayama: Well, I’m not really familiar with the Pancrase system but they don’t seem to have a problem with me fighting at PXC. When I got the offer from PXC, I cleared it with Pancrase and they were fine with it.

MMA in Asia: Your scheduled opponent Ricardo Sapno was unable to fight due to contractual obligations. How did that affect your training, physically and mentally?

Nakayama: Originally I was supposed to fight Mark Striegl, and then my opponent changed twice. I don’t think too much about what my opponent is doing or even who he is, I just concentrate on maintaining my conditioning and making sure I have a successful weightcut. Mentally there’s no real effect, I just make sure I do what I’m supposed to do and have to do!

MMA in Asia: What’s your gameplan for the fight?

Nakayama: I’ll try and stick to a grappling-based gameplan.

MMA in Asia: Is that what you’re mainly training? Who are you training with for the fight?

Nakayama: Yes. Since I arrived in Manila I’ve been grappling with my coach Hidemi Yoshi and hitting the pads as well as drilling all areas of MMA.

MMA in Asia: What are the challenges of fighting in a hot, humid country like the Philippines?

Nakayama: It’s my first time here and it really is hot!

The main challenge is that it is my first time in this country so it’s hard to maintain my conditioning but I already lost a kilo before leaving Japan. This is my first time fighting outside Japan since I dropped to featherweight so there’s definitely going to be challenges in maintaining my weight.

MMA in Asia: So, as King of Pancrase and fighting now in PXC, which promotions and countries would you like to visit and fight in? What does the future hold?

Nakayama: I have no future plans beyond Saturday. I would like to carry on and become the PXC Featherweight Champion. I really, really want to fight in the UFC!

MMA in Asia: What do you do in your freetime?

Nakayama: I don’t really have hobbies. Does weightlifting count?

MMA in Asia: Do you have any final message?

Nakayama: As an athlete I’m clumsy and getting old! However, by working hard in MMA, I want to show that even clumsy people can succeed through effort!

I love MMA with all my heart and I hope that the number of people watching the sport will increase. If through my fights I can make even a few people think ‘MMA is cool, or fun, or interesting’ then that would make me very happy indeed.