There was a time in recent memory when five Filipinos athletes reigned as Mixed Martial Arts World Champions on the global stage. Now, only one remains.
ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua “The Passion” Pacio is the last man standing now that Brandon “The Truth” Vera has been dethroned by new heavyweight king Arjan “Singh” Bhullar, but he’s optimistic that his nation will rise again in ONE Championship.
“I may be the lone World Champion now but I think that won’t last long because I’m confident that some of my teammates will be champions in the future,” Pacio says.
“The Passion” is referring to his training partners at Team Lakay, which produced 80 percent of the famous Filipino group that had the country’s martial artists roaring into 2019.
Vera claimed his gold in 2015, but the Baguio City outfit pushed things forward during 2018.
On 23 June of that year, Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio unified his interim belt with a win over Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes to become the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Champion.
Pacio followed on 22 September with a victory over Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito for the strawweight gold. Next, Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon unified the Bantamweight World Titles on 9 November by defeating Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes.
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Those five titleholders entered 2019 with their collective confidence at an all-time high, but things immediately began to go awry when two belts were lost in January. However, one of those belonged to “The Passion,” who soon proved that it was possible to bounce back.
Pacio came up short after five rounds against Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta, but he then scored an emphatic KO to reclaim his gold. And when reflecting on that journey, he believes his teammates can find similar redemption.
“We’re used to being pressured, but I’m confident [we can win more World Titles] because I train with world-class athletes and World Champions,” Pacio offers.
“When I train in the gym, I’m still training with World Champions like Eduard, Kevin, and Geje. They’re still champions in my eyes.”
Of course, the Filipino resurgence could look a lot different in 2021 and beyond. Folayang, Eustaquio, and Belingon are all veterans who still have what it takes to compete at the highest level, but Pacio sees the next generation as their nation’s greatest hope.
“You have Danny Kingad and young ones like Stephen Loman and Jhanlo Sangiao, who I believe will be World Champions in the future,” the 25-year-old strawweight king says.
Fans are well-acquainted with Kingad, who believes he is ready for another shot at Moraes for the flyweight belt, while Loman is an experienced campaigner who’s already enjoyed title-winning success in other organizations.
And Sangiao, the son of Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao, is entering ONE Championship as a highly touted 18-year-old due to his combat lineage.
On top of that, there are other rising stars within touching distance of World Championship contention, including Denice “Lycan Queen” Zamboanga, who owns the #1 contender spot in the women’s atomweight division.
So, while Pacio is holding down the fort alone for the moment, there are plenty of reasons for his optimism about World Championship gold heading back to the Philippines in the near future.
Read more: The Untold Story Of Team Lakay