Pacio eyes trilogy with Saruta in 2021

Published December 14, 2020, 6:38 PM

by Carlo Anolin

Photo from ONE Championship

ONE Championship strawweight king Joshua Pacio wants to settle an unfinished business with Japanese rival Yosuke Saruta come 2021.

Perhaps a trilogy of the Pacio-Saruta could settle that once and for all.

“Right now, I think the number one contender is Yosuke Saruta. He just recently defeated Yoshitaka Naito and it was a solid performance,” said the 24-year-old Pacio, who last saw action in the Circle last January in ONE: Fire & Fury with a split decision win against No. 4 contender Alex Silva of Brazil for the title defense.

“We’ve had two fights so far, with one victory each. So I feel there is some unfinished business there. I’m looking forward to settling that in the Circle.”

Since his ONE Championship debut in 2016, Pacio, who holds a 17-3 record, had fought at least three times a year in the Circle.

This year alone, Pacio only showed up once before spending most of his time training in and out of the Team Lakay’s gym in La Trinidad, Benguet amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Pacio first took the strawweight title after a unanimous decision win against Naito of Japan (No.2)  in September 2018. But Saruta, another Japanese fighter, stripped off Pacio’s belt after a split decision win in January 2019.

Three months later in April, the Team Lakay stalwart had sweet revenge after knocking out Saruta with a head kick to reclaim the strawweight title.

Pacio, who will celebrate his 25th birthday in January, since then rode on a three-win match streak including back-to-back title defenses against No. 3 contender and compatriot Rene Catalan (arm-triangle choke) in November 2019 and Silva.

Read: Expect ‘explosive fight’ between Pacio and Masunyane, says Catalan

The 33-year-old Saruta (21-9), meanwhile, is on a two-match win streak since October 2016 after beating Daichi Kitakata in ONE: Century II and Naito in Shooto: Road to ONE 3.

Despite an almost a year of hiatus, Pacio is confident that he’ll be able to defend his title multiple times especially now at the prime of his MMA career.

“My goal in 2021 is to continue to defend my belt and my throne. I want to showcase improvement in every fight. What you saw from me last January has to be different from what you see next time. You have to see something better,” said the reigning strawweight champion, who recently became the lone Filipino to land spots on ESPN’s Under-25 list and Black Belt Magazine’s top MMA fighters.

As for the rest of Team Lakay, only Honorio Banario and Geje Eustaquio were able to take home wins while Eduard Folayang, Kevin Belingon and Lito Adiwang suffered losses this year.