ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito (13-1) has only been in the world’s largest martial arts organization for two years, but he has already authored a roller coaster of a story.
The 34-year-old Japanese athlete has faced the pressure of a World Title match in his promotional debut, overcome a surging young contender in the maiden defense of his belt, and prevailed as an underdog in a rematch with the only man to defeat him.
Now, as he prepares for his rematch with Joshua “The Passion” Pacio at ONE: CONQUEST OF HEROES on Saturday, 22 September in the Jakarta Convention Center, we take a look back at his three epic wins in The Home Of Martial Arts.
A Golden Debut
Naito’s first appearance in ONE Championship saw him thrown straight into the deep end.
The Japanese competitor arrived in the promotion as the undefeated Shooto Flyweight Champion and was immediately granted a shot at the ONE Strawweight World Title.
“Nobita” had to overcome a tricky start to the contest, as the multi-division Muay Thai World Champion effectively shut down his takedown attempts and stung him with his legendary Thai striking.
However, the man from Matsudo, Japan soon adjusted, and he was able to drag the defending titleholder to the mat, where he punished him with powerful ground strikes and threatened with submissions.
Eventually, in the fourth round, Naito’s relentless pursuit of the finish was realized. When “Kru Rong” tried to escape, the Japanese warrior jumped on his back and systematically worked for a rear-naked choke.
Despite Amnuaysirichoke’s best efforts to defend, the hold was too tight, and he was left with no other option but to tap out. It capped a dream debut for “Nobita,” who left Bangkok as the ONE Strawweight World Champion.
A Perfect Title Defense
After defeating the seasoned Muay Thai legend to win the gold, Naito’s first challenge as the defending ONE Strawweight World Champion saw him take on a contender from the other end of the spectrum at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS in Yangon, Myanmar.
Pacio was a young, hungry lion from the Philippines’ most renowned martial arts team, Team Lakay. Like “Nobita,” he was undefeated and had real momentum heading into the bout.
Also, the Baguio City star’s non-stop energy posed a significant test to Naito’s reign.
“The Passion” got off to a blistering start in round one, as he stuffed takedown attempts and used his striking to take an early lead in the eyes of most observers.
Naito started finding more success in the second stanza, as he dragged the Filipino to the canvas with a single-leg takedown and attempted to advance his position. Pacio, however, attacked from the bottom, and he soon escaped to bring the action back to the feet.
It all came to a head in the third round. The Japanese athlete shot for a single-leg against the cage, and once he trapped Pacio’s left leg, he cleverly spun around him, secured a deep rear-naked choke, and then locked in a body triangle.
The Team Lakay prodigy was forced to submit, and Naito made a successful first title defense.
A Two-Time World Champion
However, due to the close nature of the contest, a rematch seemed inevitable.
In May, the pair faced off again at ONE: GRIT AND GLORY in Jakarta, Indonesia, with “Nobita” cast in the role of challenger this time around.
In the rematch, he showed the world that he learned from his defeat to “Little Rock” by approaching the contest with a superior skill set and game plan.
While Naito found himself surprised to be out-struck by Silva in their first encounter, he mixed up his grappling attack with a higher-pressure stand-up game to keep the Brazilian on the back foot throughout the rematch. By doing this, he prevented “Little Rock” from establishing any sort of a rhythm.
After five closely-contested rounds, the judges were split. But, crucially, two of them saw the bout in favor of the Japanese star, who reclaimed his title to become a two-time ONE Strawweight World Champion.