Rizin newcomer Taiyo Nakahara is a fighter that might be familiar to only the most ardent of Japanese fans but he is set for the biggest fight of his career at Rizin 26 and is aiming to prove that he belongs on the big leagues.

Nakahara has carved out a respectable career on the Asian scene. The 38 year old has accumulated a 15-8 record fighting professionally since 2002 for organizations such as Shooto, Sengoku, Rebel FC and Road FC.

The Tokyo fighter, who made his pro debut at the age of 19, is a long-time member of Wajutsu Keishukai Gods gym but has recently linked up with the newly-formed Satoru Sayama dojo.

The legend of Sayama 

Legendary pro wrestler and combat sports visionary Sayama, who was best known in the squared circle as ‘Tiger Mask’, founded Japanese MMA promotion Shooto in 1985. The first event was held the following year and he remains one of the most important figures in the development of the MMA scene in Japan.

Nakahara grew up as a fan of professional wrestling and closely followed the career of Sayama who become a cult hero and leading act for New Japan Pro Wrestling in the early 80s,

“I have loved professional wrestling since I was little. Many years I ago met professional wrestler Kenta through a common sponsor, Reversal, and today he is one of my closest friends.”

Natural choice

Amateur wrestling seemed like a natural choice for Nakahara. It is a good base for pro wrestling as well as MMA and he already had his sights set on pursuing a career in the latter.

Nakamura  would put his education on the back burner to pursue these ambitions,

“I entered high school and started wrestling. However, I originally wanted to do MMA, so I quit high school just six months later to concentrate on MMA.”

Joining the Sayama Dojo is not a straightforward process but Nakahara received a personal invitation and impressed at a tryout,

“I received something like an audition through the people involved,” said Nakahara when asked about how he joined the ranks of the latest Sayama dojo.

Top Secret

He will face suplex specialist Kazuma Kuramoto on New Year’s Eve. Nakahara is a veteran of the fight game, with 23 fights to his name, but in true Japanese style he still had to receive the blessing of his long-time hero and now mentor, Sayama, in order to accept the fight at Rizin 26.

“Professor Sayama simply said, ‘You have decided in your heart’, and offered me his complete support and encouragement. Without the blessing of Mr. Sayama, I would not have participated in Rizin,” he explained

Nakahara has trained with a variety of partners at Sayama Dojo including members of the Japanese wrestling team like Shota Shirai and Sayama’s son, Seito, as well as a host of MMA and BJJ competitors. But the details of his fight preparation are shrouded in secrecy,

“It is a top secret,” said Nakahara about the training he’s undertaken at the dojo.

Big change

Nakahara will be fighting on the biggest MMA event of the year in Japan and admits it’s a big change to his usual end-of-year itinerary,

“On New Year’s Eve I watch TV and prepare for the first shrine visit of the year but this year I am very happy for a new scenario and to be fighting in Rizin at the biggest show of the year.”

Nakahara’s opponent is a man dubbed the ‘suplex machine’ in former Greco-Roman wrestling national champion Kuramoto who ironically fights out of the Shooto Gym in Tokyo.

“I think he is a fighter with a proven track record in wrestling,” said Nakahara who plans to treat the fight just as any other in his lengthy and successful career.

“I just see it as the next fight in front of me and in that sense it’s then the same feeling as usual for me.”

What can fans expect from the debuting Taiyo Nakahara on Thursday afternoon?

“It doesn’t matter how you look at me, fans, I aim to share what I have learned from Professor Sayama.”

If Nakahara can accomplish that then he will almost certainly be getting his hand raised on New Years Eve.