MANILA, Philippines -- Joshua Pacio is the only Filipino who is still holding a championship in ONE Championship.
But the young fighter insists that he is not feeling pressured by the current situation, as his primary focus is to keep on improving every time he steps inside the ONE Circle.
"A lot of people are saying that I'm the only champion left for the Philippines. But for me, I don't feel any pressure because that's not what's in my head right now. Instead, I'm more focused on improving my skills and I'm more focused on what to bring next inside the ONE Circle," said Pacio.
Pacio has seen the highest of highs, when Filipino fighters ruled the promotion.
In 2018, five Filipinos held belts in ONE Championship -- four of whom belonged to the Team Lakay stable.
Eduard "Landslide" Folayang headlined the honor roll after he won the ONE lightweight world championship.
Not far behind was Geje "Gravity" Eustaquio, who took home the ONE flyweight world championship, before being followed by Pacio with the ONE strawweight world championship, and Kevin "The Silencer" Belingon with the ONE bantamweight world championship.
That dream run solidified Team Lakay's reputation as the primary MMA stable in the country. But after three years, Pacio is the only Filipino champion left.
Brandon "The Truth" Vera had dropped the ONE heavyweight title at ONE: Dangal after a loss to India's Arjan Singh Bhullar.
Times may have changed, but their glittering run with his stablemates taught Pacio plenty. More than anything, it showed him that he cannot let his status as champion take away his hunger to learn and improve. Indeed, Pacio insisted that he is still the same kid who was eager to learn in the Bagui-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," he said.
Pacio is thus unconcerned even as pundits have tagged him as the new face of Philippine MMA, a distinction previously owned by Vera and Folayang.
"I'm still young and I think I'm still far from the level of Kuya Eduard or Kuya Brandon," he insists.
"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," he added.
Moreover, he is confident that he will soon be joined at the top by other Filipino fighters. This early, Pacio sees championship potential in Team Lakay's next generation of fighters -- 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.