MANILA, Philippines -- Joshua Pacio, the lone remaining Filipino champion in ONE Championship, returns to action on Friday after nearly a two-year layoff.
Pacio will defend his ONE strawweight title against Japanese rival Yosuke Saruta, whom he fought twice in 2019.
Pacio absorbed a split decision loss in their first meeting in January, but was dominant in their rematch just four months later. "The Passion" landed a brutal knee to the head that knocked Saruta out in the fourth round, allowing him to regain the ONE strawweight belt.
He went on to defend the belt against Rene Catalan in November 2019 and Alex Silva in January 2020, but has been inactive since due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's good to be back again. It's been one year and eight months, and I'm so excited to be back again inside the Circle," said Pacio in a press conference at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Thursday morning.
The Pacio-Saruta bout is one of three title matches at ONE: Revolution in Singapore. Two other Filipinos will be in action in the lead card: Team Lakay's Lito Adiwang takes on China's Hexigetu in a strawweight bout, and Roel Rosauro will be up against American James Yang in a featherweight showdown.
All eyes will be on Pacio, however, as he looks to defend the lone ONE Championship title that still remains in Team Lakay's camp. The 25-year-old stressed that this brings no added pressure for him.
"I've been doing martial arts half of my life, and pressure is already my friend. It's part of my journey, and no, there's no added pressure," he insisted.
Moreover, he is confident that he will be joined in the champions' ranks by other Filipino fighters soon.
"I'm confident in my teammates, in the near future, there will be a champion," he said.
Pacio had previously welcomed his new role as a veteran in Team Lakay, expressing his readiness to lead the "new breed" of fighters from the famed gym, including Stephen Loman, Danny Kingad, Jeremy Pacatiw, Jenelyn Olsim, and Jhanlo Mark Sangiao.
But his first order of business will be to wrap up his trilogy against Saruta on Friday night.
"It's been two years since the rematch, and you can see in our past fights, we've been improving. Even Saruta has been improving," said Pacio. "He's the reason why I'm very motivated to level up each and every day."
"So, we're gonna show it tomorrow night, it's gonna be an explosive fight," he guaranteed.