Reigning ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua Pacio has already been tagged by pundits as the new face of Philippine MMA.
It is no surprise as he scaled MMA heights at a young age.
It’s a tag given to the likes of Vera and most recently, Eduard Folayang as they guided the sport to prominence and were the constant headliners of the numerous Manila fight cards.
Pacio, however, is downplaying the lofty label. Heartwarming as the praises are, he thinks that he still has yet to reach his peak, noting, “I’m still young and I think I’m still far from the level of kuya Eduard or kuya Brandon.”
“I’m not on my peak yet. Give us three to five years more and you can see a very different Joshua Pacio. Right now, I’m more focused on honing up our game and growing even a single percent everyday.”
For all its worth, Pacio will not be viewed boastful if he accedes to the claim. After all, his credentials got his back.
He currently sports a 17-3 career MMA fight record. 9 of his wins came via submission and 5 by knockouts. Two of his defeats were title bouts, one of them a controversial one. The other occurred in featherweight, a higher weight class.
He introduced to ONE audience a submission hold he christened the “Passion Lock”. He is the lone Filipino fighter to be included in ESPN’s Under-25 list of mixed martial arts fighters of 2020.
Further, he main evented cards in the past, most recently at ONE: Fire & Fury when he successfully defended his throne with a split decision win over Alex Silva back in January 2020.
He also impressed ONE’s top brass including ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong when he exacted revenge after suffering a split-decision controversial loss during his first title defense. Opining that Pacio should have retained his title, ONE immediately ordered rematch following the bout. Pacio scored a sensational fourth round knockout win with a well-timed knee to forced Sityodtong to proclaim later that night that there would be no need for an immediate trilogy due to Pacio’s definitive win.
All of these made Pacio certainly inches closer to, if not being in, the level of a “face”.
Times may have changed, but the 25-year-old said that having that glory run with his fellow Igorot warriors has truly taught him a lot. After all, having that belt doesn’t just make him the top dog in the weight class, that also means having the biggest target on his back.
And it’s for the same reason he’s not letting his champion status take away his hunger to continue learning from his elders as Pacio insisted that he’s still very much the same starstruck kid who was eager to learn in the Baguio-based stable.
“Back when I first joined Team Lakay, I was so proud that I was training with champions. And until now, every time I enter the gym, that feeling never changes,” he said. “I still train with the champions. I still train with kuya Eduard, kuya Kevin, kuya Geje, kuya Honorio [Banario], and kuya Edward [Kelly]. For me they are still world champions until this day and they will forever be champions in my eyes.”
That’s why Pacio has no doubts a similar gold rush may be in store for Team Lakay in the future, all the more with the promising next wave of Team Lakay up-and-comers led by him, Danny “The King” Kingad, Lito “Thunder Kid” Adiwang, Stephen “The Sniper” Loman, and Jhanlo Sangiao.
“I think being the lone Filipino champion in ONE won’t take very long because I’m confident that my teammates will be champions soon. I still train under coach Mark Sangiao and I think that will preserve our spot at the top, plus we are all training with hungry young lions,” he said.
Loman and Adiwang were both scheduled for fights last month but COVID-19 issues delayed both their matches to future dates.
By Armando M. Bolislis