Naito on Pacio fight: 'I thought I was going to die'

YANGON, Myanmar – Yoshitaka Naito might have won the battle against Filipino prospect Joshua Pacio, but he encountered perhaps the most difficult test of his prizefighting career. 

The 32-year-old Japanese veteran had to squeeze himself through the eye of a needle to retain the ONE Championship strawweight title in the main event of the organization’s “State of Warriors” card on Friday, October 7.

Naito had to endure two grueling rounds before he pulled off a come-from-behind victory by submitting Pacio with a rear-naked choke in the third round to keep the ONE Championship strawweight belt around his waist. 

Pacio appeared to be on his way to becoming the youngest Filipino fighter to capture a world title in mixed martial arts (MMA) as he had every answer to Naito’s attacks in the first two round. 

In the opening salvo, Pacio effortlessly stuffed all 5 takedown attempts of Naito and was clearly getting the best out of the exchanges. 

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. 

The gold-plated strap was within Pacio’s reach, but it only took one mistake to crush his championship aspirations as Naito secured a rear-naked choke. 

Naito considers Pacio as one of toughest opponents that he faced in his 12-bout professional MMA stint. 

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

Naito admitted that Pacio pushed him to his limit, describing the bout as a life-ending experience. 

"Joshua is a tough opponent. I really thought I was going to die. I was very tired," he disclosed. 

Although Naito had to weather the storm to get his hand raised, he believes that his experience played a pivotal role in his triumph over the young Team Lakay standout. 

"I can't get any takedowns in the first round. Joshua's takedown defense was excellent. I didn't really think that I could bring him to the ground. The reason why I won is because I just have more experience,” he said. – Rappler.com