JAKARTA — Moments before the biggest match in his career, Joshua Pacio saw a wall bearing Yoshitaka Naito‘s image and couldn't help himself from briefly touching the ONE Strawweight Championship before entering the stage.
Five rounds later and Pacio was there in the middle of the cage, kneeling as he now holds the real thing.
"Napakasaya. Hindi ko maipaliwanag yung nararamdaman ko. Hindi ko alam kung iiyak ako o tatawa. Sobrang unexplainable," said the new champ after a unanimous decision over Naito in the main event of ONE: Conquest of Heroes.
Pacio, 22, becomes the fifth Team Lakay fighter and sixth Filipino to hold the belt in One Championship.
For the Igorot warrior, this success is the culmination of all the sacrifice he has made as he split time for his studies in University of the Cordillera and training under coach Mark Sangiao.
"Hard work pays off talaga, kasi ang hirap nung mag-aaral kami tapos magte-training, tapos sa gabi mag-aaral ulit," he said. "Time management. Kung minsan puyatan pa habang hard training. Yun yung hirap, pero napakasaya kasi yung mga hirap na pinagdaanan, may bayad naman."
More importantly, he atoned for the heartbreak he suffered two years back, redeeming himself from his submission loss to Naito in Yangon, Myanmar.
Time truly has made Pacio smarter and wiser, and unlike that first duel where overeagerness got the better of him, "The Passion" was more calculated and deliberate this time, executing his three-point gameplan to a tee.
"Ang target ko talaga is yung calf, yung solar plexus, and then yung panga. So yung calf yung tinatamaan ko. Yung solar plexus, hindi ko natamaan kasi galaw siya ng galaw. Tinatarget ko din yung panga niya. Pero yung calf kick, yun talaga inimplement ko," he said.
Despite his stringent gameplan, Pacio didn't deny that he felt the bout was still too close to call.
"Sa tingin ko dikit na dikit yung laban, akala ko nga split (decision)," he said. "Sobrang patient niya. Mahirap talaga kalabanin siya kasi keep moving forward kahit anong mangyari."
"Naka-focus lang talaga ako sa gameplan namin. Sinasabi ni coach Mark, ‘Sa atin na ito basta continue what you’re doing sa round five. Sa two minutes and 30 seconds ng round five, pilitin mo na naka-tayo. Wag ka magpapa-takedown pero if ma-takedown ka, maging active ka din sa baba.’"
At the end, though, Pacio's hands were the ones which got raised, and the Team Lakay upstart hopes this is just the start.
"Ito pa lang yung beginning," he proudly quipped.