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After his title defense fight on September 24, Joshua Pacio expects to hear nothing less than a sentence that begins with “And still…”
That’s how confident and pumped up “The Passion” is merely a handful of days leading to his return inside the ONE Circle at ONE: REVOLUTION at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Not to mention he’s doing this against an opponent he asked for.
ONE handed Pacio a trilogy match against fierce rival Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta, a fight set to put a finish to their rivalry with the tie-breaking third match to bookend their trifecta of fights with the ONE strawweight title on the line.
While it maybe unnecessary at this point, the 25-year-old World Champion couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear.
“I’m so fired up to get back inside the ONE Circle. It’s been a year and a half since my last outing and I really miss the feeling of being inside that Circle and defending the belt,” he explained.
“Adding to my excitement is that my wish was granted, with Saruta topping the contender’s list and he really is deserving to face me again for the third time.”
The currently no. 1 ranked challenger was thought to have excluded himself among the top strawweight contenders when he failed to impress ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong in a previous title defense until sensational victories in his last two bouts caught the watchful eyes of different stakeholders resulting to him getting another go-round with Pacio.
The Japanese star was instrumental in putting a dent to Pacio’s record by dethroning him on January 2019 by a controversial split decision.
Sityodtong vehemently disagreed with the decision and quickly ordered a rematch.
Pacio fired a knee to the head that found its target and knocked out “The Ninja” in the fourth round to be repture the crown just three months after.
Many thought that was the end of this rivalry. Even Sityodtong conformed when he announced there would be no need for a trilogy after Pacio’s definitive win
Saruta proved his doubters wrong as he rebounded nicely top reclaim the top contender spot. He knocked out Pancrase Champion Daichi Kitakata and routed #2-ranked Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito via unanimous decision.
His nice rebound suddenly created an unfinished business between the two fighters in view of splitting their first two fights.
Although the decisive finish was enough to prove that Pacio’s first loss to Saruta was nothing more but a fluke, the Team Lakay stalwart has never gotten over the misstep that whenever he’s asked who he wants to face next, it’s only the Japanese’s name which he has repeatedly answered.
Pacio has his full belief he’s not just a better version of the fighter who fought Saruta two years back, he’s at his best this time out.
“We focused on all facets of my game. Remember that our goal is to become a well rounded athlete, so that covers everything from striking to grappling to wrestling and defense,” he said. “I’m a more confident Joshua Pacio now and I sure am well more equipped. We’ve exchanged swords twice already and in those encounters, we’ve gauged each other pretty well.”
Pacio’s last two title defenses against Rene “The Challenger” Catalan on November 2019 and Alex “Little Rock” Silva on January 2020 certainly helped him hone his skills and he has continuously developed his game since then.
It also gave the Filipino fighter a chance to be more methodical and analytical in his attack, knowing when to use his aggression and when to wisely pick his spots.
“Honestly, I’ve learned that I should not seek for a knockout win as it naturally presents itself when an opportunity opens. Instead, I should just have to follow the game plan, focus on executing it, and just show what I am capable of,” he said.
But Pacio also knows that Saruta has also improved ten-fold from the last time they faced each other. That’s why he remains wary of the dangers that his pesky foe has planned for him.
“I know that each of us will bring something new to the table and we’re sure to give it our all the moment we enter that circle. So I expect nothing but fireworks in this third fight,” he said.
That’s just the nature of the loaded strawweight division, with the continuous influx of elite talent forcing the headliners like Pacio to keep on reinventing himself to remain at the peak of the mountain.
“This is why we fight and get better every day. All of us want to have this belt and be the champion. This serves as a big motivation for all of us to become better martial artists and inspiration to our fans,” he said.
“What you’ll see are two great warriors who are willing to risk it all inside the circle. But at the end of the night, only one will come out victorious.”
If you want a nice MMA tussle on this Friday night, Pacio is guaranteeing you will have it.
By Armando M. Bolislis