MANILA, Philippines – For Filipino phenom Joshua Pacio, being the ONE strawweight champion means that he is undoubtedly one of the best in the world in his division.
A member of the famed Team Lakay stable out of Baguio City, Pacio will look to remain atop the strawweight division's rankings when he puts his title on the line against Alex "Little Rock" Silva in the main event of ONE: Fire & Fury on January 31 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
At 24, Pacio has risen to the top of ONE's stacked strawweight division, thanks to notable wins over top tier competition – including former champions Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, Yoshitaka Naito, and Yosuke Saruta, and contenders Rene Catalan and Pongsiri Mitsatit.
Last year was a formative one for the young Filipino star, as he lost, reclaimed, and defended the ONE strawweight belt in the span of 12 months.
Pacio opened 2019 with a controversial split decision defeat to Saruta in January to relinquish the 56.7-kilogram division's top prize, but in the immediate rematch just three months later, Pacio went on to reclaim the title in highlight-reel fashion, knocking out Saruta with a head kick in the fourth round.
To close out 2019, Pacio successfully defended his title for the first time with a dominant all-around display leading to a second-round arm triangle submission victory over fellow Filipino Catalan.
"I am a world champion now," said Pacio after his title defense. "All I can say is that all the sacrifices and hard work really paid off for us. I feel it now because I have defended the title."
As dominant as his win over Catalan was, Pacio still declared his intentions to go back to the drawing board and continue improving, with hopes of a quick return to action to defend his title once more.
Roughly two months after his first successful title defense, Pacio is indeed headed back to the ONE Championship stage. This time, he faces the only other former ONE strawweight champion that he has yet to beat in Silva.
The Brazilian grappler out of Evolve MMA is coming off back-to-back submission wins over Peng Xue Wen and Stefer Rahardian.
Silva, a third-degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, is 13 years Pacio's senior, and the defending champion will be coming in with significantly more experience in the mixed martial arts arena.
In his title defense against the 40-year old Catalan, Pacio was able to show that in mixed martial arts, age is nothing but a number, and "The Passion" is looking to prove that once more against the 37-year old Silva.
"They call me a young phenom for a reason," said Pacio. "I need to prove that."
Apart from defending his title for a second time, Pacio is also looking to keep his Mall of Asia Arena record spotless. When competing in the 15,000-seater stadium, Pacio is an impressive 6-0.
Joining Pacio on the card will be Team Lakay teammates Eduard "Landslide" Folayang, Danny "The King" Kingad, Lito "Thunder Kid" Adiwang, and Gina "Conviction" Iniong, setting up what could be another memorable night for the Philippines' top mixed martial arts stable.
Folayang, the former two-time ONE lightweight world champion, battles The Netherlands' Pieter Buist in the co-main event, while ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix Championship finalist Kingad returns to action against China's Xie Wei in a featured bout.
Adiwang, meanwhile, will look to capitalize on his successful debut when he faces Thai veteran Pongsiri Mitsatit, and Iniong, fresh off a successful gold medal run at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, returns to action to face India's Asha Roka.
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