The last time he was inside the ONE Championship cage, Yoshitaka Naito lost his precious ONE Strawweight World Title. But now, in his next appearance, he’ll get the chance to win it back.
The Japanese star surrendered his title, and his undefeated record, to Alex “Little Rock” Silva, but will face the Brazilian again at ONE: GRIT AND GLORY in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 12 May, as he looks for redemption in their world title rematch.
“I think having a rematch this soon is rare, and there will not be a third time,” said Naito.
“It is going to be the last match against him in my life, so it is really important for me. The difference from the last time is that he is the champion, [and] I am the challenger now. I know he is strong. I will just do my best.”
Naito and Silva battled it out for five full rounds in their first meeting, with Silva running out the victor on the scorecards, thanks to an impressive striking display that surprised many, including Naito himself.
“Alex had more superiority in the cage. I could not lead the fight and do what I wanted to do. I was adapting throughout the match. In every aspect, my game plan failed,” the former titleholder admits.
“In the beginning, I thought his weakness was striking, since he is a jiu-jitsu fighter. But it turned out that his strikes hurt a lot.
“That was my first time meeting an athlete who is good at everything. After the loss, I felt I was not good enough at anything.”
The former world champion admitted that he was “moping for weeks” after losing his title. But after taking some time out to recharge his batteries and refresh his mind, he says he’s now ready to return, reinvigorated and more determined than ever.
“I hope I got stronger,” he says. “But what I am sure [about] is that my heart is definitely stronger than before.
“I am so happy to get another chance to have a rematch against him. I really respect him. He is a great athlete.
“The championship belt is special for me. I am so honoured to be able to fight with the strongest athlete [in the division], whether I win or not. I can fight with the strongest athlete, and I have a chance to get the championship belt. That makes it very special for me.”