Despite his lofty status, ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua “The Passion” Pacio is reluctant to proclaim himself the leader of Team Lakay as the famous squad from Baguio City ushers in the next generation of Filipino mixed martial arts stars.
“The Passion,” who’s set to defend his World Title against Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta in a trilogy match this Friday at ONE: REVOLUTION, humbly brushes off that label and insists he still has much to learn.
“Truth be told, when you enter the gym, I’m still the one being taught,” Pacio says.
“The reason why I’m the champion is because I train with the best. I train with people bigger than me, stronger than me, and faster than me. That’s why I’m a World Champion now.”
But Pacio’s reluctance isn’t a case of avoiding responsibility. It’s more about humility, as the strawweight king prefers that others notice his progress instead of claiming things for himself.
The low-key nature has long defined the 25-year-old phenom, and it’s exactly what endears him to other athletes at Team Lakay – particularly the titleholders who came before him.
“I’m so proud of Joshua’s growth. Despite being the lone World Champion in the Philippines, he never changed and still looks at us with high regard,” former ONE Flyweight World Champion Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio said in an earlier interview.
“That attitude is one of the reasons why he’s there.”
Pacio’s attitude is also one of the main reasons he’s primed to be an anchor for the next generation’s boat. And he certainly has a big fan in Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao, who’s always been in awe of his protege’s tireless work ethic.
Sangiao often shares inspiring stories about “The Passion” – from staying ready during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown to training with people bigger and stronger than him at every opportunity – and he’s witnessed every moment of the young star’s pro career.
Moreover, the head coach believes his soft-spoken student knows when to dictate proceedings and when to accept direction from others.
“Joshua, as a leader, is someone who’s learning and leading at the same time,” Sangiao says.
“He has his own directives and he can have a strong disposition. But at the same time, he listens and learns, especially from the leaders who came before him.
“Everything he learned from his seniors, that’s what he’s trying to instill to the next generation that comes after him.”
But while he’s more than happy to share wisdom with younger athletes, Pacio understands that results are more important than words.
Just like his older teammates, the strawweight king has always viewed everyone in the Baguio City training center as his equal, with all of them sharing the common goal of inspiring fans by being successful inside the ONE Championship Circle.
It’s a goal that fuels his daily mindset – handling himself as a professional both inside and outside the gym.
“As I’ve said, I don’t really look at it as I’m the leader of this team. I’m more focused on setting an example through hard work and how I’m trying to improve myself on a daily basis,” Pacio adds.
“Through that, my teammates and maybe even the youth outside of our gym can be inspired with what I’m doing. If I can be really successful with what I do, they can pursue their dreams as well.”
Read more: The Untold Story Of Team Lakay