When Joshua “The Passion” Pacio began his martial arts journey, it was his health that motivated him to go to the gym and push himself.
The man from Baguio City did not harbor any dreams of glory, but as he trained and competed, he grew to love the sports he practiced and started to look beyond his weight-loss goals.
Little more than a decade later, he is now the ONE Strawweight World Champion, and he will defend his belt against the division’s former king, Alex “Little Rock” Silva, in the main event of ONE: FIRE & FURY in Manila, Philippines on Friday, 31 January.
Before he had even reached his teenage years, “The Passion” seemed to be the least likely child to have a future as a martial arts superstar.
Back then, he was heavy enough to be a ONE Championship featherweight – three divisions higher than where he competes at now as an adult.
“That’s the heaviest I’ve been. At the age of 10, I was 69 kilos,” he admits.
“I was really overweight. When I was standing, I could not see my feet because I had a big belly.”
Pacio believes some of his problems came down to genetics, but he also concedes that his eating habits exacerbated his issues.
“My father’s side [of the family] has a history of diabetes, so even if you eat just a little, it’s like boom, you will get fat,” he adds.
“Back then, I was really eating a lot – six times a day, something like that. I wouldn’t miss breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and then a midnight snack.”
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The Filipino says he was lucky to go to a school where he was not picked on by bullies, but his self-esteem was still at an all-time low. He was embarrassed to talk to other people because of the way he looked.
“He encouraged me in martial arts for fitness purposes, not for competing,” Pacio explains.
“I started jogging and doing push-ups. I also did bodyweight exercises. Then, it was my first time training. The next day, my body ached so much that I just wanted to lay down, but that feeling kind of motivated me. I enjoyed the pain that I got from training.
“Then, that’s it. After I started, my training was continuous until I lost weight.”
Pacio’s hard work changed him, both physically and mentally. By the time he started high school, his confidence issues were no more, and he had no problem talking to other people and making friends.
He had also ignited a new desire to push himself harder than he could have ever imagined.
After “The Passion” began to train Muay Thai regularly, he had his first experiences with competition in the ring. Even though he was not always successful, he never had any thoughts about giving up.
“Once you enter martial arts, your life will change significantly. That includes motivation,” he explains.
“Martial arts will motivate you. That is the most important factor – being motivated until you are able to go where you want to go.”
That mindset took him from local bouts in “the art of eight limbs” to new challenges in mixed martial arts, and eventually, the global stage, where he has emerged as one of the most talented competitors in the world.
While he recognizes that not everyone will follow his path to fame and fortune through training, he encourages anyone to follow in his footsteps because of the mental and physical health benefits of martial arts.
“Of course, even if you are not an athlete, you still need to be healthy,” the 24-year-old says.
“Exercise and eat healthily. If you want to live for many years, you’ve got to live healthily. Whatever you do, whatever your daily activities are, whatever your attitude is, it will all reflect in your body.”
That does not mean you have to give up all of your favorite foods, however. Pacio still enjoys some of the treats that delighted him in his youth, but moderation is his watchword.
“Of course, if you are not expecting a match, you also need to treat yourself – just don’t make it too often,” he adds.
“I can eat junk food, but only once a week. If I don’t have a match coming up, once or twice a week!”