ONE Championship is closing the year in fitting fashion with an epic show in Bangkok, Thailand.
This Saturday, 9 December, the reigning and undefeated ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito will defend his belt against top contender Alex “Little Rock” Silva at ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD, live in front of a capacity crowd in the Impact Arena.
For both men, there is plenty at stake. Naito (12-0) is looking to keep his perfect record intact, all while extending his record for most title defenses of the ONE Strawweight World Championship.
Meanwhile, Silva (6-1) is a BJJ world champion who is attempting to accomplish the rare feat of becoming a world champion in a second field.
The Start Of Their Journeys
It is a tale of two vastly different individuals.
The lonely Naito was a comic book nerd who had few friends, performed poorly in tests, and tapped out on academia by dropping out of high school.
He seemed directionless until joining a local martial arts gym at age 22 in an effort to emulate his longtime hero Kazushi Sakuraba. Although he did not do well in school, the Tokyo, Japan resident certainly excelled on the mats, and eventually, inside the cage.
“Nobita” made his professional debut in August 2012, and racked up eight consecutive wins en route to capturing the Shooto Flyweight Title. But in May 2016, the Paraestra Matsudo product relinquished it to join ONE, and challenged Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke for the ONE Strawweight World Championship.
Despite a difficult first round, the Japanese grappler took control and submitted the Thai in the fourth stanza via rear-naked choke to claim the coveted belt.
While Naito started martial arts in his adulthood, Silva has trained since he was a child.
A lifelong fan of Bruce Lee, the Ubatuba, Brazil native found his way to the dojo because he wanted to better protect himself from schoolyard bullies, as he was small for his age as a result of being born premature.
He initially studied kung fu and capoeira, but immediately shifted his attention to Brazilian jiu-jitsu after watching fellow countryman Royce Gracie topple much larger opposition.
“Little Rock” was dedicated to his craft, eventually earning a third-degree black belt, and becoming both a Brazilian National Champion and the Copa do Mundo BJJ World Champion. But in September 2011, he embarked on a new challenge, one that involved competing in the cage instead of on the mats.
Several months after making a successful cage debut, he moved to Singapore to coach and train at Evolve MMA, and then signed with ONE Championship.
The Triumphant Road To Bangkok
Just like their life stories, each athlete took a different road to Bangkok.
Less than five months after winning the strawweight world title, Naito defended it for the first time against Team Lakay’s then-undefeated Joshua Pacio. The Filipino contender followed a similar game plan to the previously-defeated Amnuaysirichoke, where he focused on defending Naito’s takedowns to punish him with superior striking.
The Japanese titleholder maintained his poise, pounced on a Pacio error, and submitted him via rear-naked choke in the third round. Ever since then, “Nobita” has been patiently awaiting a worthy adversary.
He finds that adversary in Silva.
A winner of five straight bouts – all by submission – “Little Rock” started 2017 off by dominating former world title challenger Roy Doliguez and submitting him via armbar in the third round of their February clash.
Silva then followed that up with an immaculate performance against a previously unbeaten world-class wrestler Hayato Suzuki this past November, where he tapped out the highly-regarded juggernaut in 82 seconds.
World Championship Collision Course
Naito is a submission grappler by nature, and is willing to test his ground skills against the BJJ world champion. He believes his veteran experience will be crucial in this contest.
Also, the Paraestra Matsudo representative thinks his endurance and his improved striking will be the undoing of Silva.
“Silva’s strength is of course his ground techniques, but his striking is probably not a big threat. Silva has never gone five rounds, so if it goes the distance, it will be my time,” Naito said.
The only time Silva has gone the distance was in his promotional debut in February 2012, where he lost to Geje Eustaquio via decision after three rounds.
Nonetheless, the Brazilian usually makes short work of his opponents, and sharpens his stand-up daily with the many Muay Thai world champions at Evolve MMA. “Little Rock” consistently trains in all aspects of the game, so he is prepared to capitalize on any opportunity.
“I believe his weakness will be his striking and his strength is going to be his grappling,” he stated. “My strong side is my grappling too, but people have not seen my striking yet, so maybe that can be a good point for me.”
Rich Franklin, Martial Arts Legend And Former Middleweight World Champion
“Make no mistake, these two competitors are are so closely matched that it is anyone’s match. I believe Silva has to edge this out on the ground. I would coach Naito to use his footwork to keep Silva from landing his big punches, and not allowing the takedown.
“Naito knows Silva’s grappling pedigree, but Silva is dangerous on his feet as well. Silva cannot have tunnel vision in the match – he needs to keep Naito guessing by mixing his stand-up with his grappling.”
Michael Schiavello, ONE Championship Lead Commentator
“Both men told me that they believe they can beat each other on the ground. The striking may go the way of the champion, but in talking to “Little Rock,” I have never seen him look so confident and so focused. That said, the champion looks very calm and very composed.
“Naito believes that if he can draw Silva to the championship rounds, then he will have an advantage as Silva is not used to being in five-round matches. I feel the key to victory for the champion will be his experience and his insurance. If he can lead “Little Rock” to the fourth or fifth round, the Brazilian may fade.
“To defeat the champion, Silva has to come out like an absolute tornado from the opening bell. I believe if he can catch the champion cold, he may have a better chance of finishing him off. He really needs to take it to the chin early, and try to get him down and lock in a quick submission.”
Mitch Chilson, Broadcast Analyst And Former ONE Athlete
“I do not know if Naito will want to grapple with Silva. Hayato Suzuki tried to grapple with Silva instead of working the stand-up, and was submitted in less than 90 seconds. Suzuki is an accomplished grappler inside the cage, but he did not last long.
“Naito will need to keep this match on the feet if he wants to beat the challenger. Silva has not really shown us a high level of striking, but if Naito can stop the takedown, Silva will need to strike. He should use the jab and boxing combinations to keep distance.
“Silva is surrounded by high-level strikers and grapplers at Evolve, but what happens when he is forced to strike? He has been running through strikers, but with a lower level of grappling. This is his first high-level test, and it just so happens to be for a world title against a veteran of the cage.”