If you want to be the best, you need to emulate the best. No athlete has taken this more to heart than James Nakashima. The Legacy Fighting Alliance welterweight champion has a long history of absorbing information from the best in the business.
While Nakashima was wrestling at the University of Nebraska, he had the opportunity to train with and learn from collegiate, world and Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs. He also had access to some of the best nutritionists in the world. After college, he read the Tao of Jeet Kune Do. He also watched countless hours of fight tape. He meditates, too. The Illinois native has learned a lot in his young life, but his education started at a much younger age.
Nakashima’s parents have always been there for him. They have supported his dreams both financially and emotionally for his entire life. They even taught him about nutrition when he was just a child. After he suffered an ACL injury that required surgery in October, they were there to help.
“My mom and dad believe in me and helped me through this time,” Nakashima told Combat Press. “It was a tough year, but they understand where my goals are at, and that’s important.”
Nakashima last faced Derrick Krantz at LFA 23 in September. After five rounds, he secured the LFA welterweight title, but the injury set him back. He was forced into the longest layoff of his career. Some guys would wallow in misery after this type of surgery, but the 29-year-old undefeated brawler took it as an opportunity to further his education.
“I’ve added a few things,” Nakashima said. “I’ve looked up some things that [Vasyl] Lomachenko does, because I think he’s probably the best boxer in the world — [or] one of them. I stole some things from him. A couple things from him, like the tennis-ball thing with the headband, I’ve got one of those. The other thing he does is arithmetic problems, because it helps with his problem-solving and thinking. That’s something I’ve done my entire career, so that’s one way we related.
“The other thing he does is underwater breath-holding, which helps with lung capacity. So, I’ve been doing the Wim Hof Method — ‘The Iceman’ — which is this breathing technique where I’ve been holding my breath underwater, and my personal best is like three minutes and 45 seconds. Lomachenko’s is like four minutes and 20 seconds. I’ve been working on it for a few months now.”
The lessons he’s picked up from one of the best athletes in the world just goes to add more arrows to Nakashima’s quiver. The fight-ball reflex workout that Nakashima mentioned is pretty technical. Essentially, he attaches an elastic string to his forehead with a tennis ball on the other end. Then, he punches the tennis ball from different angles, which improves reflexes and accuracy. The boxer makes it look much easier than it actually is. Nakashima has a background in the highest levels of grappling, so it only makes sense that he’s seeking to improve his striking arsenal, especially for his next fight.
On Friday night, at LFA 46, which airs live on AXS TV from Newport News, Va., Nakashima finally gets a chance to defend his title against Kyle Stewart. The challenger is also undefeated at 10-0, and he has won in just about every fashion possible. Stewart has fought on two previous LFA cards, and won by ankle injury during the first season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series last summer.
“I think he’s a solid opponent, like most of these kids I’ve been fighting,” said the champ. “He’s mainly a stand-up guy, so whenever I get the fight to the ground, I think there’s going to be a huge advantage on my side. I don’t really know. I’m not trying to put any limitations or expectations on this one. I don’t really know this kid, and I don’t really know anybody he’s fought. We’ve never fought the same opponents, and I’ve never trained with him, so I’m just trying to stay in my element and fight free.”
Nakashima started his career training at Premier Combat Center in Omaha, Neb., and has since moved to Arizona, where he trains at the famed MMA Lab under head coach John Crouch. As a very analytical guy, Nakashima not only focuses on learning new techniques, but he is also focused on correcting his past mistakes.
“I think this is a fight where just winning is not good enough for me,” explained Nakashima. “I’ve got to start beating these guys up and finishing these guys. Like I said, a year is an eternity. And that Krantz fight was a five-rounder, and Krantz is a solid opponent. I learned a lot in that fight and since that fight, and pace is on my side.
“But going on with these fouls that I commit, the eye pokes and the groin shots are killing me. They’re starting to kill my pace that I put on these guys, because they’re starting to go the entire five minutes, which adds up. They’re taking 10 minutes now, because I commit two fouls per fight. Besides that, I’m being very technical with a high pace and not just controlling the wrestling and the MMA, but getting them to the ground and beating them up. My stand-up is continuing to grow, and if I can stick to those basic concepts, I think it’s a really exciting performance.”
Nakashima is the quintessential student of the game. However, life is more than just a career. In 2017, he and his girlfriend Mindy added a new learning curve to life when they had a baby girl.
“Besides MMA, my biggest dedication is to my family,” Nakashima said. “I have a daughter now, who is 14 months old. Anybody who has kids knows how much work that is. It takes up a lot of time. I like to go back to Illinois to visit my parents as much as I can, and I’m just really family-oriented. I’m just really dedicated to those two things in my life.
“Me and my daughter spend all day together, because my girlfriend works. [My daughter] is at the daycare at the Lab twice a day. Before daycare, I’m the one who’s feeding her and getting her ready and changing her and everything. We’re like teammates. She pushes me through the day, and I push her through the day.”
While Nakashima loves being a dad and would like to have more “teammates” down the road, now is not the time. He’s a full-time fighter who has been out almost a year, which is not the best financial situation to be in. However, it adds another level of motivation to continue on his path to becoming the best welterweight in the world. He has previously stated that he wants to transcend the sport, and the motivation that comes from providing for his family just adds fuel to his fire.
Many fighters are always looking ahead to the next year and the next opportunity, even if they say they’re only focused on the fight ahead. However, Nakashima is one of the few fighters that solely focuses on the task at hand. He never bothers filling his head with what’s next. On Friday night, this student of the game will be in the spotlight again when he headlines LFA 46 with a chance to show the world that he belongs at the next level.
“I’ve put everything into this camp,” said Nakashima. “I’m just totally focused on Stewart. I just take it one day at a time. For me to think about anything else is too much for me. A huge thing for me that could set this year off is to get the finish in this fight.”