Joshua Pacio has a golden opportunity to turn his lifelong dream into a reality. The undefeated Filipino contender will challenge unbeaten ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito for his title at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS live on Friday Night, 7 October, from the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar.
“I will do whatever it takes. If it’s five rounds, I will give it my best and make sure that I will not make a mistake. I am sure that October 7 is the night I will get the belt and bring it home to the Philippines,” the 20-year-old confidently says.
“Bringing that gold strap here to the Philippines and to my family would make me happy because I know I would make them proud and the Filipino people proud, too.”
Pacio, a product of Team Lakay in Baguio City, Philippines, has yet to taste defeat. In fact, all of his eight victories have yet to go the distance, as three of them ended via knockout and the other five via submission.
Most recently, he fought twice under the ONE Championship banner. He first steamrolled through Rabin Catalan, a 2008 National Wushu Champion out of the Philippines, back in April at ONE: GLOBAL RIVALS. He then outclassed Kritsada Kongsrichai, a Thai National Wrestling Champion, at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD in August.
That, along with his dizzying resume, earned him a chance to fight for belt. “Not all fighters have the privilege at this young age,” he says. “Having the title shot is a very big privilege and opportunity for me.”
But getting the title isn’t going to be easy, because Naito is an undefeated veteran with plenty of championship experience. Ever since he burst onto the MMA scene in 2012, Naito has racked up a flawless 11-0 record. The Japanese wrecking ball smashed through the entire Shooto Flyweight division on his way to winning the promotion’s title.
He finally relinquished the strap in April when he left the company for ONE Championship, and made his official debut a month later when he submitted Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS to become the ONE Strawweight World Champion.
Like other fans, Pacio watched every second of the title bout and was in complete awe. “It’s very impressive because Dejdamrong held the belt for a long time. He fought some of the best strikers and grapplers, but only Naito could take him down,” the challenger says.
“Yoshitaka Naito is very good in grappling. He also has striking skills. I think he’s a well-rounded fighter,” he admits. “As always, I am training hard and working hard. The goal is to get that gold strap. I will get it.”
Pacio is a determined individual. When he puts his mind to something, he has the ability to persevere and push forward until he achieves his goal. For better or for worse, that’s been a constant theme throughout his life.
Growing up in the La Trinidad, Benguet, part of the Philippines, Pacio had a few obstacles to overcome early in his childhood. For starters, his father left the family, relocating to Israel for work when Joshua was only six years old, leaving his mother to raise him as a single parent.
“It’s hard on her part, because she thought that when I grew up I would have a bad attitude because I had no father,” he says.
Also, at the age of 10, he was “very fat,” as he puts it. “At that age, my heaviest weight was 65kg,” the Filipino recalls. “When I stood up, I could barely see my feet because my stomach was so big.”
Thanks to his uncle, an ex-Muay Thai fighter, he was introduced to martial arts. Pacio was immediately inspired and, in a way, found a new father figure of sorts.
“Martial arts changed my life in attitude, in health, and in discipline,” he states. “It’s affected my attitude to be disciplined. Martial arts also served as my father because it taught me a lot of lessons.”
At 11, Pacio began training in Muay Thai and kickboxing under the tutelage of his uncle, and dropped 9kg rather quickly. By 13, he moved on to wushu, and then competed at the 2010 Wushu Nationals just a year later.
Soon, after entering high school, he heard about the infamous Team Lakay and watched hometown hero Honorio Banario elevate his professional career in Filipino MMA by becoming champion of a local promotion. That’s precisely when he started falling in love with the sport.
Since joining Team Lakay, Pacio’s skills have advanced to new heights, especially in the wrestling and jiujitsu departments. Those improvements have been on full display throughout the course of his career.
In fact, the most shining example of his perseverance and enhanced mat talents might have been against Kongsrichai at the ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD card in Macau. There, he showcased his ability by surviving an early grappling clinic from the national wrestling champion, later defeated him at his own game. That was a submission finish that certainly made a statement.
“Team Lakay is very special, because in past years we failed a lot, but we just thought positively. We train hard and those losses serve as lessons to us. We just don’t take it negatively. We train in what our weaknesses are,” the Filipino states.
“These past years, a lot of people commented that we were weak in our ground game, so we took that positively, learned from it, and polished our ground game. I am very happy to have pulled a submission out in Macau.”
Now, his big moment is about to arrive. On 7 October, when the cage door closes and the bell sounds to kick off the global main event for ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS, Pacio will be staring directly into the eyes of Naito, the unbeaten ONE Strawweight World Champion.
The 32-year-old Japanese wrecking ball, who works out of the Paraestra Chiba camp, has been training in the sport for a decade and is considered an elite grappler. His strength may be considered Pacio’s weakness, and vice versa.
However, the last time someone tried to exploit Pacio’s so-called “weakness,” the Filipino flipped the script entirely, and he is prepared to do it again.
“He’s never been knocked out. He’s never been submitted. He’s undefeated,” the strawweight begins. “But I am also undefeated and have never been knocked out. This is MMA. It is five rounds, and in those five rounds, anything can happen.
“My skills versus his skills will be incredible. This will be one of the fights that will be remembered because he will showcase his skills and I will showcase mine, so you had better watch it.”