By Dan Paulo Errazo
Joshua “The Passion” Pacio is not worried about defending his ONE Straweight World Title for the first time, even with an abrupt change of his next opponent.
The Baguio City, Philippines native was initially set to defend the strawweight title against Japan’s Hayato Suzuki in a much-awaited rematch to be held at ONE:Eternal Glory in Istora Senayan, Jakarta on January 19, 2019.
Things took to an expected turn when an unfortunate injury took Suzuki out of the main event. Since then, Yosuke “Tobizaru” Saruta has been tasked to step in for his countryman and challenge the reigning ONE Strawweight World Champion.
Regardless of his opponent, “The Passion’s” resolve is absolutely intact and he promises that he will be going home to the Philippines with the belt still around his waist.
“I’m coming into this fight, as usual, in the best shape of my life,” the 22-year-old says.
“The way I fight, my style is very fast-paced with constant movement. To be able to maintain my pace, I have to be in great physical condition. We have worked extensively on my conditioning, and I’m prepared for a five-round war.
“Of course, we still have a solid game plan in place, and that’s going to be a huge key to victory. I have the best team behind me and the best coach.
“As long as we put our heads together, and I follow my coach’s instructions, I’m confident I can retain the title and bring home another golden strap to Baguio City.”
This encounter with Saruta is no easy feat for Pacio given that the Japanese warrior has a five-year advantage in terms of experience over the Filipino.
Saruta made his first professional appearance in Shooto: Back to our Roots in January 2008 and has since built an impressive career for the next decade with a record of 18 wins, 8 losses and 3 draws.
His defining moment however took place on October 2017 when “Tobirazu” knocked out Ryuto “Dragon Boy” Sawada to claim the Shooto Straweight World Championship.
This led him to make his ONE Championship debut last December 2018, where Saruta made his presence known by releasing explosive strikes and utilizing his well-timed grappling which earned him a unanimous decision against former titleholder Alex “Little Rock” Silva.
Pacio is well aware of the dangerous skills his challenger from Wajutsu Keishukai Hearts currently possess, and he believes that Saruta is going to be his toughest opponent to date.
“I think Saruta’s biggest strength is his grappling, although he really has good striking skills. He proved that in his last bout against Silva,” the Filipino says.
“He is a very well-rounded athlete. I am preparing for the toughest opponent of my career. This is how I always train.
“There’s no use in underestimating my opponents. I honestly don’t think Saruta has any glaring weaknesses, and that’s why I’m getting myself ready for a grueling bout.”
The Team Lakay prodigy’s journey to the top of his division has been well-documented.
Since signing with The World’s Largest Martial Arts Organization back in April 2016, he has captured audience attention with his flashy wushu striking and fluid grappling skills which seem to improve with every bout.
Pacio has also proven that he is a legitimate finisher. Out of 13 wins, seven were submissions while four came via knockout.
Despite being a bonafide finisher
“I see myself winning, and my hand getting raised at the end of the night. But that is as much as I am going to say,”
“I don’t like predicting how fights will end because, in this game, anything can happen. All I can say is that I’m going to follow our game plan strictly because I know, in the end, it’s what will bring victory.
“Whether that victory comes by knockout, submission, or decision, I will let the fight dictate that. We’ll see how it goes.”
The 22-year old Team Lakay standout has shown continuous growth with each and every match. He, along with the rest of his countrymen, is looking forward to putting on a show against his “toughest opponent” and author a perfect start to 2019.