Rin Nakai is ready to redeem herself on the ultimate proving ground.
It’s been eight years since the current Deep Jewels Flyweight champion stepped foot in the Octagon. Her lone two appearances in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) resulted in Nakai’s only losses in her 27-fight career.
Nakai, 36, is undeniably better than ever at this stage and she hopes to parlay this May 2022 Deep Jewels’ inaugural title tournament victory into a second UFC stint. Ideally, that would lead her to a showdown with divisional queenpin and all-time great, Valentina Shevchenko.
“I see that Valentina is a really good striker, but also she is a really good grappler,” Nakai told MMA Mania. “If I get a chance, I would like to fight against her.
“I really wish that my dream comes true and if I can have a match with Valentina, that would be really, really big,” she concluded.
Immediately upon her UFC departure in 2016, Nakai returned to the Flyweight division where she’s won nine fights since. The Bantamweight and Strawweight divisions were all women had in the promotion at the time, leaving Nakai stuck at a very obvious size disadvantage against her two opponents, Leslie Smith, and former UFC champion, Miesha Tate.
Nakai recently announced that she signed with top mixed martial arts (MMA) management group, Iridium Sports Agency, in hopes of furthering her UFC return chances. Despite being the Deep Jewels champion, she has no interest in defending the title and fighting for the promotion anymore.
“First of all, at that time there was only Bantamweight [in UFC] and I’m short. I’m only 5-foot-2, so I was short,” Nakai said. “At that time, I only had 16 wins so it was not really — compared to today — I didn’t have enough experience. I thought I wasn’t really ready and I wasn’t a good striker at that time. After that, I learned a lot. It was a hard lesson and I practiced a lot and focused more on striking and practice hard so I’m really different now. I’m a different Rin compared to eight years ago.
“If somebody really watches me now and gives me the chance, I’ll be performing much, much better than eight years ago,” she added.
While UFC has expanded its roster since 2016, the overall MMA landscape has grown, too. Getting back in UFC is Nakai’s No. 1 goal, but if a Bellator or Professional Fighters League (PFL) came calling, she’d also be open to fighting there.
Nakai has ultimately done all she can in the Japanese Flyweight MMA scene. Labeling the tournament as an “easy” experience following a long-awaited finals match up against fellow veteran, Shizuka Sugiyama, Nakai feels some work needs to be done for the fighters on the rise to advance their development.
“She is also very strong, but as you know, in Japanese female MMA, it’s still weak compared to internationally,” Nakai said of Sugiyama. “So, she is really strong, but I am better.
“Compared to the UFC or American international fighters, the Japanese Flyweight fighters are not good at striking. There’s not many strikers,” she continued. “There’s a lot of grapplers, so they’re really good with Judo bases because a lot of people came from Judo backgrounds. So, that’s basically the ‘problem’ or ‘issues’ that maybe they should improve. That’s why they really have to work on striking.”