As one of the postergirls of the Jewels promotion, Mika “Future Princess” Nagano is known equally for her looks and for her in-ring skill. However, a loss earlier this year ignited a new passion for training that Nagano hopes will propel her to her first major MMA title at Jewels: “Eleventh Ring.”
Now possessing a drive and focus that she once lacked, Nagano has set a lofty goal to become the best female fighter in the world. She will face South Korea’s Seo Hee Ham in a Jewels Lightweight Queen semi-final bout on Friday and speaks with MMARising.com in this pre-fight interview.
Earlier this year, Mika Nagano suffered a crushing defeat to Norway’s Celine Haga that left the Gifu native in tears. Rather than dwell on the loss, Nagano used it to make her stronger and has since dedicated herself to a much more strict training regimen that has included recent kickboxing sessions with former pro wrestler Fuka Kakimoto.
Of her opponent on Friday, South Korean kickboxing standout Seo Hee Ham, Nagano provides two very different insights into her strategy for the fight. When asked by Japanese media what she planned to do, Nagano remarked that she wanted to “test her striking” against Ham, but would change plans if she felt like it.
Shortly thereafter, Nagano told MMARising.com a different story and stated that she intended to rely heavily on her strengths by taking the fight to the mat.
“I know that [Ham] is very good on the feet, so I want to avoid getting hit too many times so I can take the fight to the ground and try for a submission. I want to take her down immediately.”
Nagano respects her opponent’s submission defence, knowing that Ham’s only two submission losses came against two of the best female fighters in the sport’s history, Miku Matsumoto and Megumi Fujii. “For this fight, I think that finishing [by submission] might be difficult, so I may just retain the position [after taking Ham down], but I have other submissions besides just armbars and I will always be looking for opportunities to finish the fight.”
On the other side of the Lightweight Queen bracket, unbeaten prospects Sakura Nomura and Ayaka Hamasaki will meet in the second semi-final. Nagano says that she might favour a matchup with Nomura in the finals because she knows that Hamasaki is very good on the ground, but does not have a strong preference either way.
“My biggest goal has always been to be number one in women’s MMA and [the Jewels Lightweight Queen Tournament] is my biggest opportunity so far to do that. Once I win, I think that many more opportunities will open up and I believe that this is the biggest opportunity of my career.”
Should she become the first Jewels Lightweight Queen Champion, Nagano would like for one of her first title defences to be a rematch with Saori “Shooting Star” Ishioka next year. The two fought at the first Jewels event and Ishioka won the fight by Unanimous Decision.
Detailing her training for this tournament, Nagano says, “In the past when I was training for fights, I would not always focus. I would sometimes think about other things. This time, even little by little, I have made sure that I remain focused only on this fight [with Ham].”
“It has always been a dream of mine to fight overseas,” Nagano says of another one of her career goals. “Until recently, I have only thought about fights in Japan, but if I am able to fight in the United States or Canada, I will. I ask my fans in North America to please wait for me [to fight].”
Nagano will face Seo Hee Ham in one of two Jewels Lightweight Queen Tournament semi-finals on Friday. Should she be victorious, she will face the winner of the second semi-final between Sakura Nomura and Ayaka Hamasaki to crown the first Jewels Lightweight Queen Champion. MMARising.com thanks her for her time for this pre-fight interview.