Two-time ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka Naito overcame an early childhood decision that he still regrets to this day to rise to the top of the martial arts world.
Naito is once again looking to get back to that level ahead of his 8 November bout against Pongsiri Mitsatit at ONE: MASTERS OF FATE. The event takes place from the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines.
Years ago, Naito made the decision to not complete school and head into the work world.
“I do not think school is a tough place in general,” he said.
“But it was for me. It was tough and I had a hard time figuring it out. I was always by myself, never talking to anyone. That was difficult for me.”
Instead of trying to battle through it, Naito says he “ran away from the pain it caused me.”
“I worked part-time after dropping out. I do regret it,” he added.
“Not having a good education can limit your chances of finding work. It made me realize that it is wrong to run away from things.”
Naito did find another door that would open to a world of incredible opportunities with martial arts. He turned professional at 22 years old and in four years, would become ONE Strawweight World Champion.
The Matsudo, Chiba, Japan native earned 10 consecutive victories to begin his career before signing with ONE in 2016. That year, he downed Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke for the ONE World Title and defended it with a victory over Joshua Pacio.
After suffering his first career loss to Alex Silva in 2017, “Nobita” reclaimed the belt in a rematch in 2018. He also scored a second victory over Silva earlier this year to end a two-bout losing skid.
“Martial arts allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone,” Naito said.
“It has shown me so much of life that I did not know. I am so blessed for the opportunities it has given me. I never thought I would be able to count myself among the greats in the sport. I am so grateful.”
Naito, who trains out of The Paraestra Matsudo, is also a former Shooto Flyweight Champion and owns a career record of 14-3. Six of those victories have come via submission and one more by stoppage.
Pacio will defend his ONE Strawweight World Title on the same night Naito meets Mitsatit, taking on Rene Catalan in the main event.