ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito wants to prove himself as the most dominant athlete in his weight class, starting with his first title defence since reclaiming the belt.
The Japanese star defeated the man who beat him to take the title, Brazilian Alex “Little Rock” Silva, to become a two-time ONE Championship World Champion, and now faces the prospect of fending off all-comers once again.
His first test comes from Joshua “The Passion” Pacio – the 12-2 Filipino star whose form demanded a second shot at gold after his unsuccessful challenge during “Nobita’s” first title reign.
Naito says he appreciates Pacio’s motivation, but believes he has the technical advantages.
“Since my opponent lost the last time around, he will bring his hunger and intensity. I understand the position he is in,” he says.
“Nevertheless, I still think that I have the advantage once the fight hits the ground, where I can impose my strength.”
One reason why Naito appreciates Pacio’s position is the fact that he was there in his most recent bout.
Naito had lost his title to Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Silva, and was determined to make amends in their rematch.
At ONE: GRIT AND GLORY in May, Naito showcased an improved game plan as he edged a split-decision to reclaim his World Title and avenge the only loss of his mixed martial arts career.
“Silva is not only a jiu-jitsu black belt, he also has amazing striking, which he demonstrated in our first fight,” he says.
“Instead of trying to avoid his strength, I was focused on imposing my strength on him.
“We are now 1-1 against each other. I am glad that I won, but his physical and mental condition on the day of the fight could have played a factor, too. So I would consider a rubber match, and if it ever materialises, it would be the real test for me.”
Before he can mull over that possibility, Naito has to deal with the challenge of Pacio, whose form coming into their rematch is outstanding.
Pacio is riding a three-bout, three finish, win streak heading into the contest, and in his last two bouts showcased his improved grappling skills in first-round wins over Ming Qiang Lan and Pongsiri Mitsatit.
Naito has studied his opponent’s evolution as a martial artist and is suitably impressed with Pacio’s improvement.
“I won the last time around, but it has been two years since then, so there are not many certainties or givens in this fight,” he explains.
“He is becoming more of a complete fighter after each fight. I can tell that he has been improving very quickly in every aspect of the game.”
Naito will head into the bout with more experience, but he says his main advantage comes in his spirit and refusal to give up.
“My biggest weapon is tenacity, and it has been reinforced through suffering loss for the first time in my career,” he states.
Victory for Naito at ONE: CONQUEST OF HEROES in Jakarta, Indonesia on 22 September would help cement his position at the summit of ONE’s strawweight division. After that, his idea of a trilogy bout with his old adversary Silva may zoom into view.