There’s been no place like home for Joshua Pacio. After losing his strawweight championship to Yosuke Saruta at ONE: ‘Eternal Glory’ in Jakarta last January the Team Lakay fighter turned the tables in the rematch in Manila.

Pacio landed a single roundhouse kick to the head at the MOA Arena in Pasay City, Philippines. That strike ended the ONE: ‘Roots of Honor’ main event immediately with the Filipino regaining the championship in round five.

After that victory in April, Pacio had an encore of sorts, forcing veteran compatriot Rene Catalan to tap out to an arm triangle choke at ONE: ‘Masters of Fate’ in the same building.

For the third straight fight, Pacio will return to MOA Arena on Friday. This time in the ONE: ‘Fire & Fury’ headlining bout when he defends his title against Alex Silva, an experienced veteran from Brazil who had previously held the strawweight title,

Unbeaten record

“I feel very comfortable fighting here at home in the Philippines. I’m unbeaten here, and it’s because of all the support from the fans,” said Pacio (16-3), who has won nine of his fights by submission and five by KO.

“It’s a huge privilege to face such a great competitor in Alex Silva. He’s a former world champion and has excellent BJJ, so this will be a huge challenge for me. I’m ready to face it.”

Silva, who is 14 years older at 37, has never been stopped in his 13 pro bouts, but sustained a losing streak from 2018 into last year, with a pair of decision losses to Yoshitaka Naito sandwiching a defeat to Saruta. Since then, his arm bar has been the finishing weapon of choice in a pair of second round submission wins.

Long journey

Despite Pacio being the hometown favorite, Silva, who trains in Singapore with Evolve MMA, says he’s appreciated the reception he has received.

“First of all, I would like to say I really appreciate the support and respect the fans have given me here in the Philippines, even if I am going to face your hometown hero, Joshua Pacio. One thing you can expect from me is that I will put my whole heart into this match and give a good performance for all the Filipinos,” said Silva, whose record of 9-4 includes eight wins by submission with one on points.

“It has been a long two year journey for me to get back into title contention, and I’m happy to be given another shot. For me, the harder the path the better because it helps me improve as a fighter. Joshua is a young and well-rounded athlete, and I have a lot of respect for him. But I believe this is my time now.”

Adapt and improve

Pacio, of La Trinidad in the mountainous province of Benguet, showed he had the ability to adapt and improve in the Catalan fight, becoming the first ONE strawweight champ to make a successful title defense in three years. He hopes to have his hand raised once again in from of his home country.

“There are still a lot of top-caliber challengers and every athlete levels up, so I think I need to level up, and I think I still need to raise my game to stay a champion,” said Pacio, who turned pro in 2013.

“This is definitely not the end. I want to continue defending [the belt] as long as I can, and of course, in every fight, there will be a different Joshua Pacio.”

Still, despite Pacio’s continuing evolution as a fighter, he understands that the third degree BJJ black belt is not someone to play with on the ground.

“Every time he competes, he improves. He will leave you in awe when you’re watching him on the ground and his striking has been improving as well,” said Pacio.

“His strength has always been his grappling, I don’t think we can say anything about it, but if it stays striking, that’s our expertise.

Bold prediction

Pacio has a background in wushu and feels this could be his key to victory,

“He has improved in his striking but we could still see some holes in it. Sometimes he gets wobbled, though, to his credit, he always recovers after getting dazed. He is a proven and tested warrior.”

Still, Silva acknowledges that he’ll need to be more versatile, and not rely solely on his ground game in order to earn a second reign with the ONE title.

“There will be more pressure for him because he will be fighting in his hometown and defending the belt. I have seen the outcome – the gold on my waist,” said Silva.