Taiki Naito may be called the “Silent Sniper,” but he is very clear with his goals and intentions.
The 23-year-old hopes to knock out the Portuguese warrior and take another step towards his dream bout with Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon for the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Championship sometime next year.
Before he enters the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for his ONE Super Series Muay Thai flyweight encounter with Botelho, take this opportunity to learn a little bit more about the “Silent Sniper.”
Mother Knows Best
Naito was born and raised in Toyohashi, Japan, and he was the middle child of three brothers.
During his preschool years, his mother took him — along with his two siblings — to a local karate dojo in order to learn good manners and etiquette. Initially, he was not overly enthusiastic about learning the martial art.
“At first, she just forced us to go,” he says.
But, as time passed, it became part of his routine, and soon, he “never looked back or even considered quitting.”
His mother believed martial arts would teach her children to be kind and considerate human beings, and she constantly reminded them about that.
While Naito enjoyed playing with his friends, he almost never missed a karate class. In fact, he would train up to four times a week.
However, when he was eight years old, he watched the legendary Masato compete in K-1, and it changed his life. At that moment, he decided he wanted to become a professional kickboxer.
Transition To Kickboxing
Naito initially stuck with his brothers in karate, mostly because there was not a kickboxing gym in the local area.
When he was 14 years old, however, he finally found one.
The Japanese teenager joined Striking Gym Ares, one of the old Shootboxing-style academies located west of Tokyo in Aichi Prefecture.
Two years later, he decided to pursue kickboxing as a professional career. He trained up to six times a week to become like Masato, his one and only childhood hero.
Admittedly, it was nothing like the glitz and glamor he had imagined when watching his idol compete against the world’s elite kickboxers of the era.
“The fight with your self-confidence is hard, and conditioning your body is tough,” he explains.
“It’s not like you’re competing every month, but you always have to keep your body in its best condition. I’m not bothered by it – I do it because I love it. But it is the hardest part [of being a professional kickboxer].”
Happiness And Frustration
Naito loves testing himself and pushing his limits, and he relishes in achieving victory in front of those around him.
“It’s one-on-one. In martial arts, there are no absolutes until the very end – you never know what might happen,” he says.
“Of course, winning makes me happy — winning and making everyone around me happy is the best. I’m always glad in the moment I win, and my family, friends, and fans are all happy for me.”
But his road to ONE Championship had him vexed at times.
Naito captured the Shootboxing Super Bantamweight Title in the coveted S-Cup Tournament in 2014, a career highlight.
In 2015, he looked to build off his momentum. He participated in the Blade FC Cup, a one-day tournament where he faced future ONE star “Momotaro” Masahide Kudo and former RISE Bantamweight Champion Yuta Murakoshi in the first two rounds.
He finished Kudo by knockout in the first round, and then defeated Murakoshi by decision in the second. In the final, he squared off against Tenshin Nasukawa – now an international star and World Champion. Unfortunately for “Silent Sniper,” it was not his day.
The Japanese kickboxer was disappointed about taking second place. However, he used that setback as motivation. He competed in the RISE 57kg “Dead or Alive” one-day tournament two years later, and finally earned some redemption.
“I was frustrated the whole time [about] taking the runner-up spot,” Naito confesses. “So winning the RISE tournament made me very happy.”
World Title Ambitions In ONE
In 2019, he joined former ONE Bantamweight Muay Thai World Title challenger and his long-time sempai (senior) Hiroaki Suzuki to train at Bell Wood Fight Team. Suzuki has had a huge effect on his evolution as a martial artist.
“When I joined the [Shootboxing] gym in junior high school, I was not at the level to train with [Suzuki and his teammates], but I told him I wanted to get stronger,” Naito explains.
“He invited me to come running with them, but I couldn’t keep up. Even still, they asked me and I kept at it, training frantically. It was hard, but before I realized it, here we are now training together.”
Now training with lions, “Silent Sniper” has high hopes and big dreams in The Home Of Martial Arts.
The 23-year-old hopes that was the first step on the road to a dream bout with the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion.
“Honestly, in ONE, the athletes from all over the world are all strong. My weight class – flyweight – is a very high-level division. I’ll face anyone, but I want to fight the champion, Rodtang,” he admits.
Before that even happens, Naito will clash with Botelho at ONE: MARK OF GREATNESS this coming Friday. If he can beat the Portuguese striker, then he will be even closer to achieving his longterm goal.
“I definitely have to get a win in Kuala Lumpur. After I get a solid win, next year I want to take a World Title in ONE,” he states. “I’ve never had the opportunity to compete for a World Title, so I want to take myself that far.”