MANILA, Philippines -- After over a year of inactivity, ONE strawweight world champion Joshua Pacio will finally make his return at ONE: Revolution on September 24 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Already raring to fight again, Pacio is even more motivated as his return fight is against an opponent he has long requested: Yosuke "The Ninja" Saruta.
It will be the third fight between the fierce rivals, and the prospect of finally getting the trilogy bout has Pacio "so fired up."
"It's been a year and a half since my last outing and I really miss the feeling of being inside that Circle and defending the belt," he said. "Adding to my excitement is that my wish was granted, with Saruta topping the contender's list and he really is deserving to face me again for the third time."
Saruta staked his claim to another shot at Pacio after emerging as the No. 1 contender in the strawweight rankings. It also helped that he has some unfinished business with the Filipino champion.
Saruta came out of nowhere and took the ONE strawweight world championship from Pacio in a stunning split decision win at ONE: Eternal Glory in January 2019.
Roughly three months later, Pacio redeemed himself in emphatic fashion, catching Saruta with a brutal knee to the head to score a fourth-round knockout win and reclaim his crown at ONE: Roots of Honor in April.
Though his win over Surata was decisive, Pacio has never quite gotten over his initial loss to the Japanese standout. Thus, whenever asked about who he wants to face next, Surata has been Pacio's consistent answer.
Heading into their third bout, Pacio is confident that he is a much better fighter now than he was when he and Surata last faced off.
"We focused on all facets of my game. Remember that our goal is to become a well rounded athlete, so that covers everything from striking to grappling to wrestling and defense," he said.
"I'm a more confident Joshua Pacio now and I sure am well more equipped. We've exchanged swords twice already and in those encounters, we've gauged each other pretty well."
Pacio's last two title defenses against Rene "The Challenger" Catalan at ONE: Masters of Fate in November 2019 and Alex "Little Rock" Silva at ONE: Fire and Fury in January 2020 also helped him hone his skills and he has continuously developed his game since then.
"Honestly, I've learned that I should not seek for a knockout win as it naturally presents itself when an opportunity opens. Instead, I should just have to follow the game plan, focus on executing it, and just show what I am capable of," he said.
However, Pacio is also well aware that Surata has grown from their last encounter, and remains wary of the dangers posed by his rival.
"I know that each of us will bring something new to the table and we're sure to give it our all the moment we enter that circle. So I expect nothing but fireworks in this third fight," he said.
"What you'll see are two great warriors who are willing to risk it all inside the circle. But at the end of the night, only one will come out victorious."
As to who will have his hands raised at the end of the night? Pacio only has two words: "And still."