Taiki “Silent Sniper” Naito fully understands the massive opportunity that awaits him in his highly anticipated return to action.
This Friday, 11 December, the Japanese striker will face former ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion Jonathan “The General” Haggerty in the main event of ONE: BIG BANG II, which was previously recorded at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
If Naito can beat the #3-ranked British star, he could secure a spot in ONE’s Athlete Rankings and potentially earn a shot at the divisional crown.
“Finally, the time has come,” Naito says of his matchup with Haggerty.
“I’m really looking forward to it. Everyone can see that he is a strong fighter, so I am highly motivated.”
Naito is coming off a strong performance at ONE: WARRIOR’S CODE in February, where he defeated “The Baby Face Killer” Savvas Michael Petchyindee Academy to put himself on a four-bout winning streak.
Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic forced events to be postponed, which left the Japanese dynamo waiting on the sidelines. But though he wanted to compete, “Silent Sniper” used the time away to strengthen his body and develop his skill set.
“I have been staying in good shape. Even though I didn’t have a bout, I was training as much as I could. I am in the same shape as I was before the pandemic. In fact, I think I am getting stronger,” he says.
“When there were no bouts, I was able to reflect on myself, and because of that, I was able to practice the details and fundamentals.”
Now, the wait is over. Naito will get his chance to face Haggerty, an opponent he’s had in mind for a long time.
“I thought, ‘Finally, I get to fight him,'” Naito recalls of receiving the bout offer.
“When I heard about it, at first, I was nervous, but I was also looking forward to it. All sorts of emotions came out of me.”
Those nerves from Naito are due to his great respect for Haggerty.
“He can do anything,” the Japanese athlete says. “He has beautiful moves and the ability to beat anyone, and I respect him as a fighter.”
Indeed, Haggerty has made a strong impression in ONE Super Series.
In January 2019, the British striker defeated Joseph “The Hurricane” Lasiri via unanimous decision. Then in May, he dominated the legendary Sam-A Gaiyanghadao to become the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion.
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But three months later, the Englishman lost his belt to Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon at ONE: DAWN OF HEROES. He also failed to reclaim the gold in their rematch this past January, falling to Rodtang via TKO at ONE: A NEW TOMORROW.
While “The General” no longer reigns over the division, Naito believes his opponent is as dangerous as ever.
“Haggerty has a strong heart. He also has a powerful elbow strike. He’s a good athlete, so I think I have to be wary when I fight against him,” Naito says.
“Throughout his ONE career, Haggerty’s been good at how he uses his elbows. Watching his most recent fight again, I thought so, too.”
It’s clear that Naito won’t underestimate Haggerty. Still, he’s very confident in his own abilities.
“Many people in the world would say that Haggerty is the better fighter. But I don’t think I am inferior in regards to technique or striking power. I hope I can prove that,” the Japanese hero says.
“I hope I can keep doing what I should do. I think it’s all about how well I can concentrate and fight with patience, focusing on the single point of attack.”
Furthermore, “Silent Sniper” is not shy about his big goals for this fight. Given his diverse striking arsenal, he’ll be aiming for a finish.
“I think it’s going to be a punch [if I win by KO],” Naito says. “But I can do anything with my weapons, so I’m confident that I can beat him with punches, kicks, or honestly with any of my weapons.”
During the height of the pandemic, Naito also engaged in experimental training.
“I thought it would be less distracting for the puncher if I got inside the heavy bag and let him hit me,” Naito explains of the intention behind the training.
“I think I have a lot of tolerance for low kicks and body shots because I usually practice taking strikes. So, it was the same training, but just adding a little fun.”
Along with strengthening his body, “Silent Sniper” gained confidence from Suzuki’s words.
“He told me that my condition is very good, and also, he said, ‘I can picture you winning,'” Naito reveals. “So, I think I am in great shape.”
Naito ultimately dreams of becoming the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion. It won’t be an easy journey, but a victory over the British star would go a long way toward getting him there.
“I can only think about this bout for the moment, but if I win this, I think no one will complain if I challenge for the World Title,” the Japanese fighter says.
“Even though I’m facing a strong opponent in Haggerty, I’m looking forward to getting a solid result to pave the road for the title match.”