In 2018, the Philippines had five MMA world champions representing the country in ONE Championship.
But after erstwhile ONE heavyweight champion Brandon Vera lost his strap to Arjan Bhullar on Saturday, the country is left with only ONE strawweight champion Joshua Pacio as its lone titleholder.
While that comes with added pressure for Pacio, he insists that it’s all about staying prepared.
“Maybe there’s a little bit of pressure, but definitely not too much. It’s really all about staying focused on the goal,” Pacio said.
“You can see the athletes that we have right now in ONE. Every athlete from strawweight to heavyweight is leveling up. You look at all the contenders in each division, each year they are getting better and better.
“Our job as world champions is to improve one percent each day. That’s what I’m doing now, and that’s the key to keeping the world title.”
Pacio certainly needs to stay in top shape, as he has two strong contenders hot on his heels in No. 1-ranked Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta and No. 3-ranked Bokang “Little Giant” Masunyane.
Both athletes present various threats for Pacio: Saruta is known for his all-around game, while Masunyane is a respected, highly athletic wrestler.
It’s not going to be an easy road from now on for the Team Lakay prodigy, but he knows that comes with being world champion.
“Being a target is part of being a world champion, mainly because we’re at the top of the food chain. As world champion, I have to make sure that what they’ve seen from me in the past, they won’t be seeing from me in my future matches,” Pacio said.
“I have to make sure to always bring something new to the table, and that’s the key to holding on to the world title for a long time.”
For Pacio, bringing “something new to the table” doesn’t mean just having a new go-to-punch or a new combination on the feet. For him, it’s adding different dimensions to his game altogether, things that he hasn't been known for in the past.
“I haven’t polished my entire skill set yet. For example, I want the day to come that when I face a top-notch grappler, I just won’t be focusing on defending, but I want to have the confidence to roll with him as well,” Pacio said.
“Same goes when I face a wrestler. I just don’t want to be worrying about my takedown defense. I want to be the one shooting for a takedown. That’s what being a well-rounded mixed martial artist means, and that’s what I want to show."
FROM THE ARCHIVES