The biggest rematch in ONE Championship strawweight history is almost here.
This Saturday, 12 May, reigning ONE Strawweight World Champion Alex “Little Rock” Silva (7-1) will defend his belt against former titleholder Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito (12-1) in the main event of ONE: GRIT AND GLORY.
When these two met for the first time in December, Silva was able to outpoint the previously-unbeaten Japanese grappler en route to a unanimous decision, and claimed the prestigious title.
Five months on, the pair are scheduled to meet again. This time, it will be at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia, and both competitors will bring a refreshed mindset to the ONE cage.
Two Different Starting Points
Silva, a lifelong fan of Bruce Lee, initially started martial arts because he was an undersized kid who was bullied. He learned kung fu and capoeira, but shifted his attention to Brazilian jiu-jitsu after watching Royce Gracie defeat much larger opposition.
The Ubatuba, Brazil native earned his BJJ black belt, and then captured the Copa do Mundo BJJ World Championship soon after. In September 2011, he adapted his submission skills for mixed martial arts competition, and won his debut via rear-naked choke.
Naito, a self-professed comic book nerd, was much lonelier than his Brazilian counterpart. He had very few friends, and the loneliness led him to drop out of high school, something he regrets to this very day.
When he reached age 22, he found something he was immensely passionate about. The Matsudo, Japan resident was heavily influenced by the country’s mixed martial arts scene – especially his hero Kazushi Sakuraba. That gave him the motivation to visit a nearby gym.
After learning the trade for six years, he made his debut in August 2012, and won via guillotine choke.
Capturing the ONE Strawweight World Title
Naito blitzed the Japanese scene. He claimed the Shooto Flyweight Title in September 2014, and reigned until 2016, when he left the organization for ONE.
In his first promotional bout, he challenged the strawweight division’s inaugural titleholder, Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, for his belt at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS. What made the task even harder was the bout took place in his opponent’s stomping grounds of Bangkok, Thailand.
Japan’s finest was not deterred, however. He spoiled Dejdamrong’s homecoming with his relentless grappling, and submitted the Thai to become the ONE Strawweight World Champion. He followed that up with a similar performance against Joshua Pacio in his first title defense – finishing the Filipino warrior in round three.
As “Nobita” reigned supreme, Silva was building momentum.
The Brazilian lost a three-round decision to future ONE Interim Flyweight World Champion Geje Eustaquio in February 2012, but responded with five consecutive submission victories, capped with an 82-second submission of unbeaten Japanese wrestler Hayato Suzuki in November 2017.
Silva earned a shot at Naito’s gold, and faced him just one month later. He made the most of his opportunity, but not with his usual grappling excellence. Deviating from his jiu-jitsu, he surprised many by utilizing the top-notch striking he learned from the Muay Thai world champions at Evolve MMA to win via unanimous decision and capture the belt.
The Game Plans For The Rematch
Silva was always revered for his exceptional jiu-jitsu, but he proved to be a complete threat in December.
The 35-year-old Brazilian punished Naito with chopping leg kicks, which limited his foe’s movement. He followed that up with hard punching combinations, and floored “Nobita” with a cross in the third round. “Little Rock” clearly out-struck his adversary.
For this upcoming tilt with the Japanese competitor, Silva wants to go one better and get a finish. He was always confident in his ground game, and his confidence is sky-high having shown he can defeat Naito with his stand-up prowess.
“I will be prepared for everything,” Silva stated. “I will be ready to go all five rounds again if I need to, but I will be looking to finish him before the fifth round this time.”
Naito admitted that he underestimated the Brazilian’s stand-up ability. He said: “I thought his weakness was striking, since he is a jiu-jitsu fighter. But it turned out that his strikes hurt a lot.”
The Paraestra Matsudo representative has trained hard in multiple disciplines in an effort to score some redemption and to reclaim the belt. He plans to stand toe-to-toe with Silva – for a little while, at least.
“Last time when got his punch, I was blown away, so I am not sure about striking,” he continued. “I will try though. I hope I can hit him.”
At some point, the Japanese grappler has suggested plans to take the contest to the ground, too. He had some success there in the latter stages of his first bout with “Little Rock,” and he will try to grind out his seventh submission victory, or perhaps a TKO.
Michael Schiavello, ONE Championship Lead Commentator
“The result [of the first bout] did not shock me, as Silva is an extraordinary athlete, but the method with which he won the title shocked me. He put on a display of some of the best Muay Thai I have seen in the cage, winning with a superb show of leg kicks, and using hardly any of his BJJ. I was stunned.
“He is brilliant, and always evolving. He is not a one-trick pony who relies on his BJJ. His striking continues to improve, and he really is putting the ‘mixed’ in mixed martial arts.
“I hope Naito has learned to check a leg kick! He needs to be clever, use the cage, move, score, and evade. He needs to confound Silva, and present something Silva has not seen and/or prepared for.”
Mitch Chilson, Broadcast Commentator And Former ONE Athlete
“Silva showed the advantage on his feet in the first match-up. He can let his hands go, and threw leg kicks without the fear of being taken down. His jiu-jitsu game is world-class, and he can finish from the bottom or the top. It is dangerous to enter the grappling realm with him. He can choose two different paths, with one path where he tries to finish as soon as possible.
“Naito needs to change up his strategy. He cannot allow Silva to control the stand-up. He needs to go first, and put pressure on Silva – put Silva on the back foot, and keep the volume heavy with punches. He will need to check the leg kick, and keep hands in Silvas’s face. By mixing in takedowns with heavy ground and pound, he may be able to overwhelm Silva.
“This is going to be a high-stakes chess match. I am hoping this goes to the ground, and we see these two ground wizards go at it.”
Joshua Pacio, Former ONE Strawweight World Title Challenger
“Silva is a well-rounded athlete now. I saw his striking the last time he competed. He has no problems in his ground game and wrestling, so I think he is at his peak and deserves ONE gold.
“Naito is a great athlete, and I think he needs to cope with the striking of Silva. We all know that his game plan is set up his takedown and bring the fight the ground. Yes, he is very good on the ground, but Silva is also good at that.
“I think Naito’s key to victory is to show his newly-improved striking, and if he has the opportunity to take Silva down, then he should go for it.
“Both of these guys are at their prime, and I believe they will go out there and showcase the very best version of themselves.”