Nakai talks Vale Tudo, SHOOTO and Rickson
TOKYO — Sherdog.com recently headed down to Paraestra Tokyo to talk
with Vale Tudo legend Yuki
Nakai (Pictures), who laid the groundwork for
events like Friday’s SHOOTO welterweight championship between
(Pictures) and his challenger Joachim Hansen (Pictures).
We asked Nakai about his history, the old days of SHOOTO and his
legendary performance in the Japan Vale Tudo tournament, which
included his infamous bout versus Gerard Gordeau and an appearance
in the finals against Rickson
Sherdog.com: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with
Nakai (Pictures): No problem.
Sherdog: How did you start in SHOOTO? What was your background
before you started competing?
Nakai: I was born in Hokaido and then came to
Tokyo. I used to do judo and wrestling before, and I always wanted
to do MMA, and because SHOOTO was the first total fighting style in
Japan I really wanted to do it.
Sherdog: When did you come to Tokyo?
Nakai: It was Yokohama actually (city next to
Tokyo). I came in 1992.
Sherdog: Did you come there for training?
Nakai: Yes I did.
Sherdog: What made you become a pro-fighter in the first place? I
know that you trained with Tiger Mask (Japanese pro-wrestling
legend, Satoru Sayama).
Nakai: It was always my childhood dream. I
always wanted to be a pro-fighter.
Sherdog: At the moment before the Japan Vale Tudo, you were the
SHOOTO welterweight champion, and then you were picked by the
SHOOTO Commission to represent SHOOTO. Can you tell us your
experience when you were in the Japan Vale Tudo?
Nakai: What I thought about it?
Sherdog: How were you feeling when you were going to the
Gracie was in the same tournament. What were you thinking?
Nakai: I was 70 kilograms (154 pounds) and
everyone else was bigger than me. In Vale Tudo at that time, there
were not many technicians apart from the Gracie family, and SHOOTO
was as popular at that time. I had confidence in my abilities and I
was quite confident that I could win.
Sherdog: How do you think fighting in SHOOTO back at that time
compares to fighting in SHOOTO today?
Nakai: I fought first in 1994, then in ‘95,
and even the rules have changed to Vale Tudo, so I had time to
prepare for Vale Tudo. Before that time there was no punching or
kicking on the ground. And Sayama changed; they wanted Vale Tudo to
be more sporting, so that’s why they slowly changed the rules to
make it more like a sport.
Sherdog: I apologize for the question, but I know that in your
first fight in the Japan Vale Tudo tournament you fought Gerard Gordeau, and you had an
accident when fighting. Gerard was gouging your eyes. I want to
know how you were feeling at the moment when that happened and what
injuries you sustained.
Nakai: I was prepared that Gordeau would be
using some kind of dirty techniques, and according to the rules, if
you used dirty techniques two or three times you would lose, so I
was expecting Gordeau to lose because of his tactics. I was
expecting to win because of all the rule infringements.
Sherdog: Did you receive any damage from Gordeau’s tactics?
Nakai: I can’t see with my right eye, even
now. Complete loss of vision in that eye.
Sherdog: You had three fights that night in the Japan Vale Tudo
tournament. You won the first two fights — one by heel hook and the
other by armbar — then you met in the finals with Rickson Gracie. You were very
badly damaged from the previous two fights, how did you feel at the
moment when you faced Rickson?
Nakai: He had good technique, and I did a lot
of judo and ground work as well and I thought that I’d use my
ground work to fight with Gracie. I was really confident that I
would make it to the finals and I was very confident that I could
Sherdog: After your loss in the fight with Rickson, how did it
change you? What did you realize that you would have to change in
Nakai: Rickson had superior techniques and I
was a bit surprised because he was much better than I thought. But
it was a good experience for me to understand the top-level fighter
at that time.
Sherdog: I understand that after the fight with Rickson you decided
to start training jiu-jitsu, basically bringing this style back to
Japan with you when you returned. So what was the process? Who did
you start training with? Who did you get your black belt from?
Nakai: For the first two years I kept it a
secret that I was blind in my right eye because at that time many
people were against Vale Tudo. I didn’t want people to think that
Vale Tudo was a dangerous sport. I got my injury from illegal
techniques; I didn’t want Vale Tudo to have a bad reputation. I had
to give up my fighting career because I couldn’t see the punches
coming at me. After that, for one year I didn’t compete. At that
time a lot of Japanese fighters were not top class and they were
losing a lot of fights, and then I thought what’s needed to
win? At that time I was doing a lot of judo, but then I started
to think OK, let me try jiu-jitsu, and then I started with a
Sherdog: So whom did you get your Black Belt from?
Nakai: I got it from the International
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation.
Sherdog: I heard once that when you went to the Mundials and you
were in the Brown Belt division, I think you won your division or
placed among the top. After that Carlos Gracie Jr. told you that,
“you should not fight at Brown Belt anymore, you should fight at
Black Belt.” So did you get your Black Belt from Carlos Gracie Jr.?
Is that story true?
Nakai: Every time I fought with a brown belt
I would ask the organizers “Can I fight in this competition with
so-and-so belt?” and at the Pan-Americans they said that I needed
the black belt, but I didn’t have a main teacher — I had a lot of
different instructors but not one set teacher. For me, I got it
from the Federation.
Sherdog: After that you came back to Japan and founded the Japanese
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation and the Pareastra gyms, what do you
feel is the impact of your work?
Nakai: I thought Brazilian jiu-jitsu fit the
Nakai: Japan is judo. Brazilian jiu-jitsu
basics are judo. People who did judo were the people who were
teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Of course, it’s not only judo but
[also] a lot of ground work. But the basics of Brazilian jiu-jitsu
is the same as judo, and for Vale Tudo it’s very important, lots of
groundwork. And I felt that Brazilian Ju-jitsu would be popular in
Japan. So, when I started my dojo, of course, we had Vale Tudo
class. But I felt we should have a lot of jiu-jitsu classes as
Sherdog: Was opening a dojo something that you wanted to do for a
Nakai: I thought about it since the time I
moved to Yokohama. Then I had this idea that I’m going to have my
Sherdog: When you opened your first gym, did you realize that it
was going to be such a success? There are many gyms that represent
your name, and out of that jiu-jitsu has spread all over Japan. Did
you realize at the moment how big it was going to become?
Nakai: I was 100 percent sure that it was
going to get big.
Sherdog: After all these years, are you satisfied with your
Nakai: Sure it’s all over Japan, but I feel
that more and more people are going to pick up on this
Sherdog: You’re basically a legend and champion for many SHOOTO
fans and fighters, both inside and outside of Japan, especially
because of the courage you showed in the Japan Vale Tudo. So a bit
of a silly question: but do you really feel like a legend?
Nakai: I’m not a legend — it’s too early. I’m
a jiu-jitsu practitioner.
Sherdog: Do you realize that you have a lot of fans outside of
Japan, foreigners that follow SHOOTO in Europe and America?
Nakai: I’m thankful that people know about
me. Ten years have past and still people know about me and I’m very
grateful about that.
Sherdog: So what’s next, what do you want to accomplish?
Nakai: I want to be the world champion of
Sherdog: What about your work in Japan with jiu-jitsu, your school,
what do you want to accomplish?
Nakai: I want students of my gym to get
stronger and go to the next level. Also normal people who come to
the jiu-jitsu school, if they’re satisfied and they’re happy about
what they’re doing, that’s good enough for me.
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