Yoshitaka Naito is the owner of a 12-0 record and the current ONE Championship strawweight champion. The 33-year-old has been a professional for more than five years and has beaten every opponent he has ever faced.
Under these circumstances most fighters would be shouting their name from the rooftops, but Naito is the opposite of brash. A self-confessed nerd, he doesn’t spend his spare time at exclusive nightclubs or upmarket restaurants.
In fact Naito is the first to admit he is somthing of a loner.
“Well, I don’t have that many friends, it’s lonely (but) I like video games. Once in a while, I’ll teach a class at the gym.”
Which is not to say he doesn’t enjoy life. The undefeated strawweight, who faces Alex Silva at ONE: Warriors of the World on Saturday, says he is a man of simple pleasures.
“I enjoy winning when I play video games, when I win in a satisfying way.”
It’s difficult to imagine what Naito would be doing if he hadn’t found fortune and fame as a mixed martial artist. However, the high school dropout has his own ideas.
“What should I say? There is a certain attraction to becoming an office worker.”
Despite identifying as a nerd, Naito does not come from an academic background.
“I was in high school, but dropped out because it wasn’t interesting. I still regret doing that. At the time, I felt liberated, but later things got difficult.”
It was around this period that he discovered martial arts. Naito didn’t start training until relatively late in life, but he got into MMA through a familiar route.
“I was 22 when I began. I saw it on TV, a fighting sport program called PRIDE, and after that joined a gym.”
Naito’s role model is a man who needs absolutely no introduction to anyone familiar with the glory days of Japanese MMA.
“Someone I saw in the past was Kazushi Sakuraba, who was in Pride. He used good joint techniques on foreign fighters, which impressed me.”
Next up for Naito is an opponent with outstanding grappling credentials. Silva is a BJJ black belt and the Japanese fighter knows he is in for a tough test against the Brazilian.
“My next opponent is very strong, so there is a good chance that I might lose to him, (but) I’ll do all that I can in the coming fight to retain the belt. I plan to keep it.”
Naito acknowledges that his opponent will be at an advantage on the ground. But four of his last five fight have gone beyond the third round and he believes this experience will be crucial ahead of Saturday’s fight in Bangkok.
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“I think my own strong point is my stamina. I have more than my opponent, especially in a long fight. I guess my weak point, compared to him, is the ground.”
It’s 14 months since Naito last fought, but he puts this delay down to a lack of top quality opponents in the division. Silva certainly fits that the bill and the Japanese star knows he will be at his very best if he wants to emerge from ONE: Warriors of the World with that undefeated record intact.
“I think he will be a good opponent. Yes, he is a black belt for whom I have much respect. I’m afraid of him, but at the same time, respect him.”
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