Yoshitaka Naito: The man who silenced Thailand

Yoshitaka Naito spoke exclusively to the Independent about becoming the new ONE Championship Strawweight champion last Friday at ONE: Kingdom Of Champions

James Edwards
Wednesday 01 June 2016 15:07 BST
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ONE Championship strawweight champion Yoshitaka Naito
ONE Championship strawweight champion Yoshitaka Naito (Getty)

"I knew most of the cheering was for Dejdamrong but it didn't bother me. I had never fought in front of such a big crowd so it was my honor and I was so happy to be in there. I'm such a lucky fighter."

Those were the words of Yoshitaka Naito who last weekend silenced the 12,000 Thai's in attendance at ONE: Kingdom Of Champions when in the main event he defeated their hometown hero Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke to capture the ONE Championship strawweight title.

Naito entered the arena last Friday evening to an overwhelming atmosphere in Bangkok. The crowd were in total support of their own man Amnuaysirichoke and their support was deafening as they cheered him at every opportunity encouraging on and willing with everything they had for him to win.

While some fighters would have felt the pressure of the situation, Naito said he felt comfortable the minute he arrived in Thailand and that he knew he had the support of everyone in Japan watching back home.

"It was my first fight overseas so it was difficult to prepare but everyone around me," Naito told the Independent. "The staff and the fans were very kind and more supportive than even I expected. I feel more comfortable because I knew Abema TV was streaming the fight back home. I knew a lot of my countrymen would be watching me and after the fight, I received many warm messages congratulating me. I'm just so thankful to everyone."

Friday's title win wasn't the first of Naito's career. He began training MMA at the age of 22 and made his pro debut in a promotion called Shooto back in 2012. After winning seven fights out of seven for the promotion he was finally rewarded with a shot at the belt in 2014.

Naito submitted the reigning champion Shinya Murofushi with just three seconds remaining in the fifth round to become the Shooto strawweight champion. Having gone on to successfully defend that title twice, the man from Chiba is no stranger to being a champion and understands what he has to do in order to remain on top of the ONE Championship strawweight division.

"I'm the Champion now so I will try my best to keep the belt and also behave like a champion," Naito said laughing. "I know I have to work harder than ever before to stay at the top. If I do that, I know I will continue to be successful in ONE Championship and that more victories will follow."

For Naito, winning the title wasn't about fame, glory or even money. To him, winning was about being recognised as a world champion and doing it within ONE Championship is something has particularly filled him with pride.

I'm now in the "Where the champions are made" poster with all the amazing champions," Naito said. "I love them all so it's like a dream being part of the champions along with the likes of Angela Lee, Ben Askren and Roger Gracie. I take great pride in being there alongside them. To me, I still can't believe it when I look at the poster. it looks like I'm taking a snap photo with the champs."

The win on Friday not only won Naito the strawweight championship but also gave him is eleventh straight career win on an 11-0 unblemished record. The man that silenced Thailand no doubt has more great fights and accomplishments ahead of him.

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