ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua “The Passion” Pacio knows there are many contenders who are eager to challenge for his gold, but two athletes, in particular, have captured his attention.
The first such athlete is his longtime foe, Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta.
The Japanese star has already dethroned Pacio once, as he challenged “The Passion” in January 2019 and claimed the ONE Strawweight World Title via split decision.
Saruta’s reign would be short-lived, however. An immediate rematch was ordered for three months later, and the Filipino promptly won back the belt by knocking “The Ninja” out with a knee to the head.
Since that night in Manila, Saruta has worked his way back to the #1 contender spot, knocking out Pancrase Champion Daichi Kitakata and routing #2-ranked Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito via unanimous decision.
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Based on the strength of those performances, Saruta’s continued development, and his top-ranked status, “The Passion” would welcome a third meeting between them.
“It would be amazing if a trilogy takes place. We know each other well, we’ve faced each other twice. He knows my style and I know his. I think whoever’s improved the most since that second fight will win,” the 25-year-old titleholder says.
“I think I’m leveling up, but at the same time, he’s also improved – I’ve seen him beat Naito and he was really impressive.
“Of course, his confidence is rising, but my job as a World Champion is to improve more, to improve better than your challengers.”
Bokang “Little Giant” Masunyane has also caught the Filipino king’s eye.
The South African phenom shocked the global fan base in his ONE debut, as he used his explosiveness and phenomenal wrestling to dominate Ryuto “Dragon Boy” Sawada en route to a unanimous decision victory in December 2019.
A year later, Masunyane delivered a highlight-reel moment, as he finished veteran star Rene “The Challenger” Catalan with a head kick knockout in just 37 seconds, pushing his perfect record to 8-0 and taking Catalan’s #3 spot in the strawweight rankings.
To put that victory in perspective, the South African finished Catalan seven minutes faster than “The Passion” did when he defended the gold against “The Challenger” in November 2019.
Masunyane’s spotless record, his high standing in the division, and his overwhelmingly decisive skill set make him a logical candidate to challenge Pacio for the ONE Strawweight World Title next.
The Team Lakay star is intrigued by that possibility, especially after witnessing the major statement “Little Giant” made in his last showing.
“He’s very explosive. His athleticism is through the roof. He also has power in his hands,” Pacio says.
“He’s a wrestler, but I know he’s looking to become a well-rounded athlete and we’ve seen that against Rene Catalan when he scored that knockout. His explosiveness and athleticism make him a handful against anyone in the strawweight division.”
While there are plenty of tough combatants in the strawweight division, Pacio understands that one of the two aforementioned contenders will likely be standing across from him the next time he enters the Circle.
But if the Filipino could decide that next opponent for himself, the choice would be clear.
“For me, a trilogy is unfinished business,” Pacio adds.
“I’ll go for the trilogy against Saruta. And after that, it could be Bokang or it could be anyone that they want me to face.”