Japanese star and ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito is a two-time ONE world champion, and wants to prove himself as the most dominant strawweight in the world, starting with his first title defence since reclaiming the belt.
Naito defeated the man who beat him to take his title, Brazilian Alex “Little Rock” Silva, to win back the world title, and now faces the prospect of fending off all-comers once again.
The first challenge thrust in his direction is that of Joshua “The Passion” Pacio, the 12-2 Filipino star whose form demanded a second shot at Naito after losing out to the Japanese world champion during “Nobita’s” first title reign.
Naito says he appreciates Pacio’s motivation, but believes he has the key advantages from a technical standpoint.
“Since my opponent lost the last time around, he will bring his hunger and intensity. I understand the position he is in,” he says.
“Nevertheless, I still think that I have the advantage once the fight hits the ground, where I can impose my strength.”
One reason why Naito appreciates Pacio’s position is the fact that he was there in his most recent bout.
Naito had lost his title to Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Silva, and was determined to make amends in their rematch.
And, at ONE: GRIT AND GLORY in Jakarta, Naito showcased an improved gameplan as he edged a split-decision to reclaim his world title and avenge the only loss of his mixed martial arts career.
“Silva is not only a jiu-jitsu black belt, but he also has amazing striking, which he demonstrated in our first fight,” he says.
“So instead of trying to avoid his strength, I was focused on imposing my strength on him.
“We are now 1-1 against each other. I am glad that I won, but his physical and mental condition on the day of the fight could have played a factor, too. So I would consider a rubber match, and if it ever materialises, it would be the real test for me.”
But before he can mull over that possibility, Naito has to deal with the challenge of Pacio, whose form coming into their rematch is outstanding.
Pacio is riding a three-bout, three finish, win streak heading into the contest, and in his last two bouts showcased his improved grappling skills in first-round wins over Ming Qiang Lan and Pongsiri Mitsatit.
Naito has studied his opponent’s evolution as a martial artist and is suitably impressed with Pacio’s improvement.
“I won the last time around, but it has been two years since then, so there are not many certainties or givens in this fight,” he explains.
“He is becoming more of a complete fighter after each fight. I can tell that he has been improving very quickly in every aspect of the game.”
Naito will head into the bout with an experience advantage, but he says his main advantage comes in his spirit and refusal to give up.
“My biggest weapon is tenacity, and it has been reinforced through suffering loss for the first time in my career,” he states.
Victory for Naito at ONE: CONQUEST OF HEROES in Jakarta on 22 September would help cement his position at the summit of ONE Championship’s strawweight division. After that, his idea of a trilogy bout with his old adversary Silva may well zoom into view.
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