Most MMA fans know very little about Rin Nakai’s actual fighting ability. But there is a pretty good chance they have seen some of her, umm, unique videos on the Internet over the past few years.
That’s the goal, according to Nakai herself.
"I want not just MMA fans, but ordinary people to watch my videos," Nakai told FOX Sports on Wednesday through an interpreter. "My interest is that people who don’t have any idea about MMA watch my videos and might start to watch MMA and the UFC."
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Indeed, Nakai is quite the curiosity. Pancrase, her previous organization, was not subtle in the way they promoted her — with borderline fetish footage. The undefeated Japanese women’s MMA star would dress up in different costumes — a bunny rabbit, a dominatrix, etc. — and take part in activities, mostly in a gym. One video shows her in a bathtub and another has her lifting weights topless, though only her well-muscled back is shown.
Nakai (16-0-1) said those were all her idea. The outfits are based on what she said "teen idols" and female pro wrestlers wear in Japan. So people watching in the United States might not entirely get it, but it resonates well with fans in her own country.
"This is more Japanese culture," Nakai said.
The videos have certainly worked to get her name out there, even here in the states. Nakai meets top women’s bantamweight contender Miesha Tate at UFC Fight Night on Fight Pass: Hunt vs. Nelson on Saturday (3 a.m. ET) at Saitama Super Arena, and she might not have had that opportunity if not for the way she markets herself.
Nakai, 27, even wore a tiara and a frilly white dress to the UFC news conference to announce tickets were going on sale in June. This week, she showed up to media day in a Japanese schoolgirl outfit, complete with knee-high socks and plaid skirt.
"To wear something unique or different than other fighters, people pay more attention to the promotion," Nakai said. "I think this is part of my honor to get more attention from the fans."
To wear something unique or different than other fighters, people pay more attention to the promotion.
In some ways, what she has done with her videos is not entirely different from how UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey promotes herself with trash talk and bold statements and "Ultimate Fighter" castmate Felice Herrig has marketed herself with sexy modeling shoots. Nakai, who is also asking fans to help her choose a nickname, just has her own unique style.
She’s not too bad inside a cage or ring, either. Nakai has been training in judo since she was 3 years old and made the transition to MMA when she was 19. The former Queen of Pancrase has notable wins over familiar names like Tara La Rosa and Sarah D’Alelio. Tate, though, will be by far her biggest test. "Cupcake" is ranked No. 2 among women’s bantamweight contenders.
Nakai admits she didn’t have much time before this fight to put out any new videos. But she isn’t intimidated by Tate, either.
"This is my 18th fight," Nakai said. "All of the fighters in the UFC are tough anyway. I think it doesn’t matter."
Rin Nakai poses for media during Ultimate Media Day at the Hilton Tokyo on Wednesday.
Tate is pretty popular with male fans, so she and Nakai have something in common. As far as being a sex symbol, though, Nakai is non-committal.
"Men make the decision to watch my videos," she said. "It’s not for myself to say I’m a sex symbol. Some people say I am, some say I am not. It’s one person’s opinion, so I cannot make a comment on that."