The path from the world of elite wrestling to the UFC is a well trodden one. It is a journey that undefeated Japanese bantamweight Rinya Nakamura hopes to complete this weekend.

He faces compatriot Toshiomi Kazama at UFC Vegas 66 this weekend. Should he lose the fight there is no guarantee whatsoever that Nakamura will get a second chance.

The two bantamweights face off in the final of the Road to UFC tournament. A contract is on the line for the winner but the loser will be left wondering whether they will ever compete inside the octagon again.

Nakamura stopped both his opponents to reach the final feels it will be ‘do or die’ time this weekend,

“There is a lot of pressure, but I’m ready for it,” he told

All Japanese

Nakamura made his MMA debut less than two years ago. He has won six fights out of six including two victories in the Road to UFC tournament which earned him the spot on this weekend’s card in Las Vegas.

It is very rare that two Japanese fighters end up sharing the octagon together and Nakamura admits he would rather be facing a foreign opponent,

“It’s better to have a non-Japanese opponent because I want all of Japan’s fighters to succeed. 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.

Rise to the occasion 

His father was one of the founders of Shooto and Nakamura says he was destined to be a fighter from a very early age,

“It was my parents’ decision the moment I was born,” he told

Despite this the 27 year old was concerned that his opportunity to fight for the UFC might have come too soon. When he was asked to join the tournament Nakamua needed some convincing,

“I thought I needed more time to prepare for the UFC stage. However, since the offer came, I changed my perception to ‘I’m here, so I will rise to the occasion’.”


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National stage

He began wrestling at the age of 5 and went on to enjoy success on the national stage. Nakamura won gold at the Under 23 world championships in 2017 and finished on the podium at the Japanese championships on three occasions.

Five of his six victories including both fights in the Road to UFC tournament have come inside the distance. But while Nakamura looks to be a very exciting prospect his feet are staying firmly on the ground,

“Honestly, I value the process more than the result. First-round finishes look good on paper, but when I think about the process point of view, I’m just getting started.”

As a child he would attend Pride events. Nakamura has fond memories of these shows but feels that the modern MMA scene in Japan has lost a little of its allure.

It is an issue he is hoping to personally address and the man from a famous MMA family would like to help return the sport to its glory days,

“I was enthusiastic about going to Shooto and Pride every time in my early days, but unfortunately, I feel something is missing lately. I’d like to do everything I can to help invigorate the sport in my home country.”