Coming completely out of left field and dethroning an undefeated champion is no easy task, but that’s exactly what Japanese strawweight stalwart Yoshitaka Naito had accomplished — and in his ONE Championship promotional debut, no less.
There is no doubt that Naito, 32, is immensely talented. He would have to be, with the way he took the ONE Strawweight World Championship belt from former titleholder Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke’s iron grip. Plus, he was a Shooto Flyweight Champion who had defended his title twice.
And you do not just beat a world champion like that without having the skills necessary to do so, in your opponent’s backyard, against all odds. Naito overcame Dejdamrong’s tremendous world-class striking prowess to win by submission within four rounds of a terribly grueling contest, and it was impressive, to say the least.
This Friday, 7 October, the unbeaten Naito (11-0) takes on undefeated young gun Joshua Pacio (8-0) of the Philippines at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS in Yangon’s Thuwunna Indoor Stadium. On the line will be Naito’s ONE Strawweight World Championship, marking Naito’s first title defense.
Naito has the ability to hold on to the title for a very long time, but to get the ball rolling he’ll have to prove that he is not only able to beat an established champion in Dejdamrong, but also a high-flying upstart such as Pacio.
Win or lose, there’s no doubt Naito has the skills necessary to be able to successfully defend his belt, and build his own legacy.
#1 Excellent striking
It takes a true martial artist to become a complete fighter like Yoshitaka Naito. The Japanese champion may have more submission victories under his belt, but that does not mean he is a dud in the standup.
Naito sets up his combinations very nicely. It just so happens that his biggest strength lies in grappling. But to be able to supplement those world-class grappling skills, Naito has to possess a solid striking game to go along with it.
The 32-year-old made a name for himself in Japan’s world-famous Korakuen Hall competing for Shooto, and you do not get by a slew of Japan’s best fighters without having the striking skills to round out your overall game.
Do not sleep on Naito’s striking — it may not be the highlight of the package, but it is surely enough to keep opponents wary.
#2 World-class grappling skills
There is a lot to be said about Japanese fighters and grappling. It is just a natural fit. Take a look at the landscape of Japanese fighters and you’ll know see how Yoshitaka Naito is cut from the same cloth as fighters like Shinya Aoki.
The Japanese take pride in their craft, and grappling is perfected through the constant sharpening of skills. Naito hasn’t been in the game as long as his seniors, but he certainly absorbed their tenacity on the ground.
Make no mistake about it, Naito is a grappler through and through. Despite his up-to-par striking skills, Naito’s strengths lie in driving an opponent to the mat and keeping him there, testing his ability to defend against multiple submissions.
When Naito takes on Pacio this Friday night, he will most definitely want to take the Filipino to the ground. Pacio is a wushu expert who has honed his skills with his teammates at the famed Team Lakay, and although he has better than average grappling skills, Naito is a different beast. Naito would do well to take this fight to the ground as soon as possible.
#3 Japanese work ethic
The one thing that sets Japanese fighters apart from the rest of the world is their insane work ethic. Naito has worked extremely hard to get to where he is in his career, and a lot of his success stems from his obsession with perfecting every aspect of his MMA game from striking to grappling.
Day in and day out, Naito hits the gym with the aim of working on every little nuance of his technique.
He makes sure that every strike he throws is crisp, clean, and accurate. He works on his takedowns and in getting his opponents to the ground where he works his magic. Then he spends hours on his grappling to make sure that once an opponent is on the ground, he can keep him there.
Japanese people are some of the hardest workers in the world. They take work very seriously. Yoshitaka Naito’s workplace is the gym and he goes in there everyday to make sure his customers, the fans, are satisfied.
Naito and Pacio are set to do battle this Friday. For Pacio, it is the biggest fight of his young career. For Naito, it could very well be just another day at the office.