Taichi Nakajima’s win over Yoshinori Horie in 2020 was arguably the biggest upset of the year in Japanese MMA. The UFC veteran was beaten by a fighter whose record at the time rendered him no more than a journeyman.

Nakajima is clearly no longer a journeyman. That win was enough to earn the 32 year old a shot at reigning featherweight King of Pancrase Isao Kobayashi.

The title fight headlines Pancrase 321. Nakajima hasn’t managed to win three fights in a row since 2012 but if he can do it this Sunday a belt awaits.

Keisuke Takazawa / MMA Planet

Tenacity to win

By contrast his opponent has always had success, barring a slightly disappointing spell in Bellator. But Nakajima thinks his experience of adversity makes him a more tenacious opponent,

“My tenacity to win, the strength of my heart. I showed it last time and I want to show it again, plus the striking attacks I now have.”

He fought Horie at Pancrase 318 last September. Nakajima had not expected to wait so long for the title shot he was promised after that win but believes he has benefitted from the time off,

“It’s been a surprising amount of time (but) I’ve changed a lot, I’ve really evolved since I fought Horie. My overall level has improved of course, but my style has also changed a little.”

Keisuke Takazawa / MMA Planet

Seriously focused

After 27 fights and ten years as a professional mixed martial artist you would not expect Nakajima to make any major adjustments. But the veteran says he is constantly improving and evolving,

“My striking and grappling has evolved, but I’ve added even more finishing skills. I realized I had to improve my takedowns and striking accuracy so I’ve been seriously focused on that,” he said.

Without doubt this is the biggest fight of Nakajima’s career. He has been in with some top tier opponents, both in Japan and Russia, but has never managed to earn a title shot before.

Kobayashi is a former lightweight King of Pancrase and comes into this contest on a five fight winning streak but Nakajima feels that the champion can be tactically naive,

“I couldn’t say exactly what his weakness is. Really doesn’t have any weakness in his skill set but his strategy, I feel there’s a hole in his strategy in his fights up until now.”

Keisuke Takazawa / MMA Planet

Serious improvements

While Nakajima feels he has built his two fight winning streak on the back of some serious improvements he doesn’t see Kobayashi springing any surprises,

“He’ll probably bring his usual style. His fight style now is what makes him, so I think he won’t deviate from that. He’ll come at me constant and steady.”

Nakajima credits the recent winning streak to a slight change of strategy that has helped him beat opponents to the punch,

“The last two fights I’ve built my own ‘be-first’ attack strategy and incorporated that. So this time I want to use that.”

Keisuke Takazawa / MMA Planet

Stronger version

Having never challenged for a title before he is unfamiliar with five round fights. But Nakajima does not see this as a factor in his opponent’s favour at all and is ready to attack for 25 minutes if he needs to,

“In the five, five minute rounds I have absolutely no worry about my physical strength and fitness. On the contrary, if it is a battle of stamina I’ll be quite glad. I’ll be attacking from the first round.”

Nakajima might be coming of the biggest win of his career but he does not want to reflect on recent achievements. The 32 year old is more concerned with what the future holds and is adamant he can improve on the performance that saw him beat Horie,

“I think you’ll see a much stronger version of myself.”