Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito had a flawless 2016, as he claimed the ONE Strawweight World Championship in his promotional debut, and closed out the year with his first successful world title defense.
The Japanese grappler may have been relatively quiet in the current calendar year, but now he is looking to make up for lost time, and take his game to the next level.
On Saturday, 9 December, the Matsudo, Japan-based titleholder will defend the ONE Strawweight World Championship for the second time. He faces top contender Alex “Little Rock” Silva (6-1) at ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD, live from the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand.
Naito (12-0) is fully aware of the challenger’s martial arts pedigree. Brazil’s Silva, a BJJ world champion who trains out of Evolve MMA in Singapore, has tapped out his last five opponents with five different techniques.
That immediately grabbed Naito’s attention.
“Hayato [Suzuki] is known as one of the best wrestlers in Japan, so I was shocked to see him lose against a jiu-jitsu champion. Alex Silva’s grappling is extremely good,” the 33-year-old Naito admits.
Days following the epic win, “Nobita” was offered the chance to defend his belt against Silva in the main event of ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD.
He was quick to agree to the proposed title clash, and believes the challenge that “Little Rock” presents will benefit him both emotionally and from a skills standpoint.
“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 says.
“I have respect toward jiu-jitsu, so If I win, my confidence will expand and will take me to the next level.”
Naito is a martial artist who constantly steps up his game.
After winning his first ten matches, and the Shooto Flyweight Title, Naito joined ONE Championship in May 2016.
He was immediately granted a title shot against then-undefeated ONE Strawweight World Champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS, in his opponent’s old stomping grounds of Bangkok.
The Japanese sensation survived the opening stanza, absorbing every thudding strike the Muay Thai legend threw at him, only to turn up the heat in the following rounds.
“Nobita” relied heavily on his submission grappling prowess, utilizing it to wear “Kru Rong” down, and eventually pulled off the upset victory via rear-naked choke in the fourth round. By doing so, he captured the prestigious ONE Strawweight World Championship.
In the opening two rounds, the Team Lakay product stunned Naito with his world-class wushu strikes, and stuffed most of the strawweight king’s takedown attempts. As a matter of fact, the new world champion only secured a single takedown, but took a slew of stiff punches and elbows for his troubles.
Fortunately for the Japanese grappler, he was able to outsmart Pacio near the cage wall in the third round. He wrapped around the Filipino’s back and submitted him with a tight rear-naked choke.
Although Naito cemented his status as the world’s best strawweight and retained his championship on that fateful October night, he gained a new level of respect for not only Pacio, but an entire nation of martial artists.
“It was a really tough bout, so I am glad I was able to defend my belt. In the beginning, I was amazed because Joshua’s power was more than I expected, but I was calm enough to cope with it,” he explains.
“I underestimated Filipino athletes’ martial arts skills. Their skills are evolving rapidly. It turned out to be my motivation to also improve my overall skills to go to the next level.”
Ever since that title bout nearly fourteen months ago, Naito has been training at Paraestra Matsudo in his native Chiba, where he has eagerly awaited his next big challenge.
That challenge arrives in the form of Silva on 9 December in Bangkok, the same city where he first captured the ONE Strawweight World Championship, and he is looking to use “Little Rock” as an opportunity to step up.
For “Nobita,” the most important thing is to constantly strive to the next level of his martial arts evolution. He wants to continue to hold the world championship, and be the best possible martial artist he can possibly be.
After all, winning the belt has been testament to all his hard work, and just holding it has given him a new sense of purpose.
“The ONE Strawweight World Championship belt is the symbol of being the strongest, the best in the world,” he proudly states. “Martial arts taught me plenty of things and has made my life shine.”