MANILA, Philippines -- The lone Filipino fighter still holding a title in ONE Championship, Team Lakay's Joshua Pacio is hopeful that he can make his return to the ONE Circle soon.
Pacio, who holds the ONE strawweight belt, has been out of action for over a year now, having last fought in January 2020 when he outpointed Alex Silva at ONE: Fire and Fury to defend his title.
This has undoubtedly been Pacio's longest layoff, but he said he finds ways to stay ready while waiting for ONE Championship to call him back to action.
"I'm more than thrilled to get back inside the circle as it's more than a year since my last bout," he said.
"It's been tough for all of us because of this pandemic. But we're not just a cage warrior, we're also warriors in life. We have to deal with this and move forward," he added.
"We have been finding ways to train amidst the restricted movements we have now. We've already got back in the gym and we're already doing what we are passionate about -- a lot of drills, repetitions, and learning new techniques in MMA."
Pacio also made sure to keep track of the developments in the strawweight division, and he noted that their weight class is "very stacked" at the moment.
His rival, Yosuke "The Ninja" Saruta, is currently ranked No. 1 in the division, followed by former titleholder Yoshitaka "Nobita" Naito of Japan, No. 3 Bokang "Little Giant" Matsunyane of South Africa, No. 4 Hiroba Minowa of Japan, and No. 5 Alex Silva of Brazil.
"I watch their bouts and I continue to learn them and from them. I know for sure that I need to continuously level up because I can't stay idle. But that's a challenge I'm enjoying," said Pacio.
Out of all the contenders, however, Pacio is focused on one man.
"A trilogy with Saruta would be great," he said.
Pacio and Saruta split their first two meetings: Saruta took the first clash via split decision at ONE: Eternal Glory in 2019, but Pacio got his revenge in April of that year, when he knocked out Saruta in the fourth round to reclaim his crown at ONE: Roots of Honor.
While he looks forward to the rubber match against Saruta, Pacio also acknowledged that it will be up to ONE Championship to decide who will challenge him.
What's certain is that he will be a better fighter once he steps back into the circle.
"You can see a wider-ranging, more well-rounded Joshua Pacio in my future bouts. These are the things that we are working on in the gym," he guaranteed.
"I'm super motivated to get back and defend our title, especially that my other teammates have joined ONE Championship already. I'm very happy for them and for us, and you will see the next generation of Team Lakay athletes come in full force," he added.