Yoshitaka Naito: Team Lakay’s Joshua Pacio has grown tremendously

Yoshitaka Naito, Joshua Pacio

Reigning ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito, 34, of Chiba, Japan and Joshua “The Passion” Pacio, 22, of Baguio City will share the ONE Championship stage once more on September 22, 2018. They will headline “ONE: Conquest of Heroes” at Jakarta Convention Center in Jakarta, Indonesia.

When Pacio challenged Naito for the ONE Strawweight World Championship at “ONE: State of Warriors” on October 7, 2016, the Japanese champ won via rear-naked choke submission. In their rematch, Naito expects another stringent clash with Pacio, who is training out of Team Lakay.

“He has grown tremendously,” Naito said of Pacio. “His skill as a fighter was already impressive when we first fought.”

“He has evolved into a dangerous martial artist,” the Japanese champ said of the Team Lakay fighter. “For sure, he wants some revenge. I am expecting it.”

Pacio has won four of his last five contests since his defeat to Naito. The Team Lakay fighter has also finished three top-level adversaries in a row to punch his ticket to a second shot at gold.

Like Pacio, Naito showed how far his skills have improved in his recent ONE Championship outing, where he edged out Brazilian rival Alex “Little Rock” Silva, 35, in a rematch via split decision to reclaim the strawweight crown. Naito seeks to accomplish an encore performance against Pacio, who has been handed a golden opportunity to become a world champion and settle the score with the man who first tainted his then spotless mixed martial arts record.

“I can’t be complacent against him,” Naito said of Pacio. “He is tough as nails. Giving up is not his style. I am determined to keep my belt.”

“I am confident of my skills,” Naito added. “My martial arts, my grappling, my conditioning, all of that makes me confident.”

At “ONE: State of Warriors,” Pacio appeared to be on his way to becoming the youngest Filipino athlete to capture a world title in MMA as he had every answer to Naito’s attacks in the first two rounds. Naito was finally able to get the fight to where he wanted with a successful single-leg takedown in second frame, but Pacio remained active on the ground by landing elbows and keeping his shoulders off the ground while looking to create space with his legs.

“I’ve never had an opponent who’s defended well against my tackles, so it was tough,” Naito said. “I usually get my foe to the ground easily. His punches and kicks were very heavy. It really hurt when it hit me.”

The intricately crafted hardware was within Pacio’s reach. But it only took one mistake to crush his championship aspirations as Naito fastened a rear-naked choke to force the tap.

Meanwhile, here is a recent interview with Pacio:

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