Takada Dojo's newest fighter, Kazuhiro Hamanaka, will fight Nino "Elvis" Schembri at the June 8th PRIDE 26: Bad To The Bone in Yokohama Arena. Schembri recently defeated Hamanaka's fellow Takada Dojo member, Kazushi Sakuraba at PRIDE 25. We went to Takada Dojo to speak with Hamanaka and his mentor, Takada Nobuhiko, the newly appointed General Manager of PRIDE.




Hamanaka: I'm going to use the skills I've learned from wrestling, which I love, and my strength to win in this PRIDE.
Pride Fighting Championships: What do you think Mr. Takada?
Nobuhiko Takada: Even among amateur wrestlers, Hamanaka's fighting style is suited well for vale tudo. He's got a solid amateur wrestling record. He'll be competing in the All-Japan meet on May 2nd and that will be his last chance at the Athena Olympics. If he wins there, he'll be eligible for a spot on the Olympic team. I think the most important thing is, as I said, his fighting style is well suited for vale tudo. I hope he'll use the skills he's learned well and not let his amateur wrestling experience be wasted. I think he'll provide inspiration to the fighters that come after him. In his heart, he really wants to show everyone how great amateur wrestling is. He wants kids to be inspired by amateur wrestling. I think there's a lot to be gained from his participation in PRIDE.
Pride: What is his fighting style?
Takada: In one word, aggressive. Always going forward, always moving. Take the opponent down and pound on them. Even his university instructor said that he has just as much power as the foreign athletes. Many people are wondering if there are any Japanese fighters that can win over foreign fighters in the current PRIDE. I believe that he's got what it takes to do it.
Pride: What kind of advice have you given him?
Takada: Just win. There were many candidates for his debut, like Ryan (Gracie). There were many names brought up and Nino was eventually decided on. This is a big chance for Hamanaka. It's not just a regular match. He has to win or there's no point in going out there. No matter what, win. That's the most important thing.
Pride: Did you choose Nino to be his opponent?
Takada: Yes. The first thing I considered was whether their fighting styles would be compatible. Also, will the fans be interested in the fight. I felt the fans would really get into the fight if Nino is his opponent. I believe that Nino will be a good match for him.
Pride: Hamanaka, do you have any special feelings towards Nino since he beat Sakuraba?
Hamanaka: This is my fight. I haven't thought of anything regarding this fight except doing my absolute best.
Pride: What do you think of Nino?
Hamanaka: I think he's a good fighter. He's not lacking in anything.
Pride: So this will be your jump into the professional world.
Hamanaka: It will be a professional fight but there are no such limits in amateur wrestling. If I win at the All-Japan tournament, I'll continue competing as an amateur wrestler.
Pride: When did you become interested in MMA?
Hamanaka: I've always done amateur wrestling and that's how I became interested in martial arts. There wasn't any one thing or one person that sparked my interest. I just like it.
Pride: You entered Takada Dojo after you graduated from college?
Hamanaka: Yes, I joined Takada Dojo in 2001.
Pride: Are training separately for the All-Japan and Nino right now?
Hamanaka: I'm doing the same training for both. I train at my old university and here at the dojo. I also train the kids. I train hard but fun.
Pride: What will be the next step if you win the All-Japan on May 2nd?
Hamanaka: Next would be the World Championship in New York. I have to win at the All-Japan to gain eligibility for the World Championships.
Pride: What are the requirements to go to the Olympics?
Hamanaka: You have to place in the Best 10 at the World Championships to enter the Olympics. I'll be in the 84-kilo freestyle division.
Pride: What's your usual weight?
Hamanaka: About 94 kilos.
Pride: How often do you train since you entered Takada Dojo?
Hamanaka: I train submissions at Takada Dojo 3 times per week and at my old university 3 times per week.
Pride: What's your goal in amateur wrestling?
Hamanaka: Olympic gold medal.
Pride: You're making a sudden appearance at PRIDE, a huge event. Do you feel any pressure because of that?
Hamanaka: No.
Pride: What kind of advice have you received from the other Takada Dojo fighters?
Hamanaka: They told me to fill myself with the Takada Dojo spirit and give absolutely everything I have in the ring.
Pride: What kind of fight do you want as your debut in PRIDE?
Hamanaka: Move forward and pound on him with punches, take him down and then beat on him some more.
Pride: When did you decide that you wanted to fight in PRIDE?
Hamanaka: Last year.
Pride: You didn't always want to make your pro debut in PRIDE?
Hamanaka: At first I didn't think about it. Then, after I joined Takada Dojo and saw the other fighters, I became interested in it. I felt that I belong there.
Pride: Are you prepared for Nino's striking?
Hamanaka: Even if he hits me I'll still move forward and beat him down with strikes. We have a Muay Thai coach from Thailand and he trains me.
Pride: What did you think of Sakuraba and Nino's fight?
Hamanaka: He's very flexible.
Pride: Who would you like to fight next in PRIDE?
Hamanaka: I'll fight anyone if they're strong.
Pride: What techniques are you good at?
Hamanaka: Right hooks and tackles.
Pride: Do you consider yourself an amateur wrestler who'll be fighting in PRIDE?
Hamanaka: Yes, I'm an amateur wrestler. And that's what I will be when I step into the PRIDE ring.
Pride: What about letting the world know how strong amateur wrestling is?
Hamanaka: Yes, I definitely want to do that. I love amateur wrestling more than any other sport. I want to let everyone see it.