At just 23 years old, Team Lakay’s Joshua “The Passion” Pacio is already a two-time ONE Strawweight World Champion, and is arguably the number one strawweight in Asian mixed martial arts.
The Baguio City native has recorded wins over the likes of former champions in Yoshitaka Naito, Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, and most recently, Yosuke Saruta to reclaim the strawweight title at ONE: Roots of Honor in Manila.
Some fighters don’t even get this far in their mixed martial arts careers, while others manage to attain this level after years, even decades into the sport.
Pacio, in just six years and 20 professional bouts, is already at the highest level of his career and is one of the most well-rounded competitors on the ONE roster, regardless of weight class.
If you ask him however, this isn’t even his peak yet.
Addressing the media just minutes following his spectacular head kick KO win over Saruta in Manila last April 12th, Pacio firmly believes that, even after being a two-time champion and having beaten nearly everyone that has held the ONE Strawweight World Championship, he still has a long way to go and a lot to learn.
“Maraming nagsasabi na nandun na ako sa pinnacle, sa peak, pero marami pang years na darating, kasi hindi pa ito yung peak ko,” Pacio said will full confidence. “Marami pa akong matututunan, kumbaga marami pa akong kakainin.”
Pacio added that it is not only him that will get better, but the competition as well.
“Nagle-level up yung mga kalaban, so kailangan din natin mag-level up.”
Currently, Pacio is the lone remaining ONE World Champion from Team Lakay after starting the year off with four titleholders.
Pacio was the first to surrender his world title, losing to Saruta in a close Split Decision loss back in January.
Geje Eustaquio, Kevin Belingon, and Eduard Folayang all followed suit.
Fortunately for Pacio, ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong believed that Pacio deserved to win in the first meeting against Saruta, and was granted an immediate rematch.
“The Passion” did not waste his second chance as he put Saruta, and all the doubts and questions to sleep in the rematch.
“In our first bout, I think I had a lot of errors, it was 50-50, some think he won, some think I won, but this time, like sir Chatri said, don’t leave it to the judges’ hands,” Pacio said.
Given Team Lakay’s track record when it comes to decisions in title defenses, getting the convincing stoppage win was definitely a breath of fresh air.
“Napaka-saya kasi wala nang duda yung mga tao,” Pacio expressed. “Satisfying win, hindi lang para sa sa akin kundi para sa team ko, kasi we worked hard for it, and yung errors na nagawa ko, naitama ko.”
Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao echoed Pacio’s sentiments, saying that getting the finish has been the prime goal, especially following two controversial title losses.
“Sabi nga nila, don’t leave the decision in the hands of the judges, and nagawa ni Joshua, and yun yung goal natin,” Sangiao stated. “If hindi man [matapos], yung talagang malayo, yun yung goal natin ngayon, kasi ang hirap kapag talagang close eh, pwedeng baliktarin yan, wala ka nang magawa.”
“Pero yung ipakita mo talaga na malayo, or yun yung the best, yung to finish the fight na lang,” he added.
Now, Pacio is set to begin his second reign as the ONE Championship strawweight division’s top guy, and possibly standing in front of him is a fellow Filipino in Rene Catalan, who has racked up an impressive six-fight winning streak, with his most recent being a beatdown of former two-time champion Naito.
For Pacio however, he says that he is ready for whoever is put in front of him next.
“Para sa akin, kung sino man yung ibigay ng ONE Championship, kahit sino, I’m ready to defend the belt, kahit sino man, or kahit yung karamihan yung winning streak.”