The mixed martial arts stars – who’ve split a pair of previous matchups – will meet in a trilogy bout at ONE: REVOLUTION on Friday, 24 September, and Saruta is confident that he can gain the advantage in their storied rivalry once and for all.
“I have a game plan for Pacio this time. I will show him hell. I will drag him to the bottom of the sea,” he says.
“Our next fight will be the final battle with him. The third time is a charm.”
The Japanese veteran first earned a shot at Pacio’s strawweight gold with a late win over Alex “Little Rock” Silva in his ONE Championship debut.
He then edged past the Team Lakay man via split decision to claim the World Title at ONE: ETERNAL GLORY in January 2019, though Pacio leveled the series with a fourth-round knockout in their immediate rematch at ONE: ROOTS OF HONOR that April.
However, losing that second meeting – and the belt – did not deter “The Ninja.” Instead, the 34-year-old has taken accountability while letting his past mistakes fuel his determination to develop and perform better.
“I have watched my [most recent] fight with Pacio about 100 times because I want to find the points that need to be changed and improved,” Saruta says.
“When I watch it, I don’t feel bad. It’s not really a bad memory that I don’t want to be reminded of. For me to improve myself, I needed to see the video. I try to remember the feeling during that match and [then do my] training.”
Though it was a hard way to learn a lesson, Saruta is confident that his adjustments in the gym will pay dividends in the long-awaited rubber match.
“I lost my way in that fight and felt that I took the easy way, even though I had trained so hard,” he says.
“I felt like I wanted to finish the match as fast as I could and take a rest. I attacked frantically, and my opponent kicked at the right moment. My mind was weak, and I chose an easier way to fight. I regret being lazy in that match.”
This time, the Wajutsu Keishukai Hearts representative still plans to attack Pacio, but it will be more measured and less reckless. Ideally, he wants to carefully dial up the pressure until he overwhelms the reigning king.
“I’m doing the heaviest training I have done in 15 years. I need to practice in this way to win. I should not choose the easy path. If I choose the hard path instead, I’ll eventually win the belt,” Saruta says.
“I can’t attack him like last time. It’s going to be more than what he can imagine like he’s in the deep sea. I will attack him and test his patience, and, finally, I will hang on and win.”
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It’s clear that Saruta is brimming with confidence, but he also knows the Filipino superstar will not be a passive participant in their clash.
With his World Title on the line, Pacio will surely do whatever it takes to keep hold of his silverware. The 25-year-old features a well-rounded game that’s repelled two further challengers since he took the belt back from Saruta.
With that in mind, “The Ninja” knows his rival will be a tough nut to crack and that he’ll have to rely on his own experience to gain the upper hand.
“I’m excited to face him again, and the fight will be a fun one,” Saruta says.
“I imagine he will try to fight on the feet, but he said he would attack on the ground. If he does, I will fight seriously. I will fight both striking and on the ground.
“I already fought him two times, so I roughly understand how he fights, his technique, and physical ability. Then I need to think about a strategy — a way of thinking in my head and how I will use my energy. That will decide who wins and loses.”
It will take an enormous effort to dethrone Pacio, which is why Saruta has physically and mentally prepared himself for a grueling battle.
Moreover, he’s not fazed by the prospect and has no intention of taking shortcuts. The challenger is ready to wade into the depths in search of victory – and he plans to drown “The Passion” en route to the gold.
“My goal is to defeat Pacio, but more than anything, I want to get the belt and become a World Champion,” Saruta adds.
“It’s going to be a very difficult fight, and I don’t think I can finish him in the first half of the fight. When I feel like I’m having a hard time in the first round, I will try to attack him many times, hang on and win.
“I have trained hard for a tough fight. I think I’ll be able to finish him in the fourth or fifth round with a rear-naked choke.”