by Ivan Trembow – MMAWeekly.com
Pride has announced the signing of Yoshihiro Nakao, a Japanese heavyweight who has been very successful thus far in his MMA career, with victories over Don Frye and Wesley “Cabbage” Correira.
Nakao will fight in a non-tournament fight on Pride’s July 1st card, against an opponent to be announced at a later date.
Nakao was viewed as a future star in K-1’s MMA division, and his decision to sign with Pride represents another shot fired in the ongoing promotional war between Pride and K-1. The Pride vs. K-1 battle escalated recently when MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba left Pride to sign with K-1, and you can expect both promotions to attempt to sign away as much talent as possible from the other.
With his strong amateur wrestling credentials and all-around MMA skills, Nakao is widely regarded as the fighter with the most potential to be a successful Japanese heavyweight on the level of Kazuyuki Fujita, which has made him a burgeoning star in Japan and could make him a huge star in the future.
Nakao said during his introductory press conference with Pride that he would like to fight Fujita at some point in the future. He will not be fighting Fujita on July 1st, as Fujita is already slated to face Wanderlei Silva on that date in the second round of Pride’s Open Weight Grand Prix. The identity of Nakao’s first opponent in Pride is expected to be announced soon.
Nakao has always been aggressive in pre-fight staredowns, and this led to the incident for which he is now infamous. On December 31st of last year on the K-1 New Year’s Eve special, Nakao was scheduled for a fight against Heath Herring.
In the pre-fight staredown, Nakao bumped heads with Herring and then kissed him briefly on the lips. Herring immediately responded with a right hand to Nakao’s face, and Nakao was knocked out cold by the punch. Amazingly, the fans in attendance voted for Nakao by an overwhelming margin as the fighter who had the “best performance of the night” by any fighter, despite the fact that his fight never actually started.
The fight was initially announced as a disqualification win for Nakao due to Herring’s illegal pre-fight punch, but it was later changed to a no-contest when K-1 officials determined that kissing an opponent during the pre-fight staredown is also illegal. A rematch between Herring and Nakao was discussed, but never materialized.