ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka Naito is a unique character in the world of Asian mixed martial arts.
The 34-year-old has been a fan of comic books throughout his life, and after being told that he looks uncannily like a character from the Japanese series Doraemon, he adopted his name, “Nobita”, as his moniker.
The comic book subculture is hugely popular in Japan. They are available to buy for as little as 80 yen (less than USD$1), and the influence of comic books is there to see throughout Japanese culture.
Naito was one of the millions of youngsters who became enthralled by the alternative reality of comics, and it gave him a release during his formative years, when he was an introverted youth who struggled socially.
“Manga offered a form of escape from reality,” he explains.
“I knew that avoiding the discomfort of facing reality was not advisable, but I did not enjoy school at all because I disliked schoolwork and had few friends.
“I felt helpless. I was unable to improve my circumstance and needed a mental sanctuary to retreat to.”
The manga genre of comics was a particular favourite of Naito’s, and looking back at his passion for it, the ONE Championship star says he can draw parallels with martial arts.
“I like how imaginative the visual and narration of manga are,” he says.
“I see something similar with mixed martial arts because fighters I admire, like Kazushi Sakuraba, are very imaginative with their techniques and fighting styles.”
Aged 34 and now the ONE Strawweight World Champion, Naito’s passion for manga remains as strong as ever, though he admits he isn’t sure what fans beyond his homeland think about his comic-book nickname.
“Since I do not understand the languages spoken outside of Japan, I do not know what exactly fans make of my ‘Nobita’ persona,” he explains.
“Having said that, I feel a degree of receptivity toward me, so even when I fight in those countries for the first time, I feel that it is not a complete ‘away’ game.”
Naito returns to action on Saturday 22 September against Joshua “The Passion” Pacio at ONE: CONQUEST OF HEROES, where he will make his walk to the cage in his usual “Nobita” attire.
It not only ties in to his comic-book-inspired nickname, it also gives a glimpse into the story that helped bring Naito out of his shell and into the world of martial arts.