For Joshua Pacio the road back to the strawweight title begins this weekend. He faces Mansur Malachiev at ONE Fight Night 15 knowing that the winner will be next in line for a shot at the belt.

This will be Pacio’s first fight since leaving Team Lakay. He has prepared for this contest at Lion’s Nation MMA and says that his strategy has been specifically designed to finish the undefeated Russian,

“I’m working on things and we’re cooking a game plan that, if I execute well, will mean I’m going to stop him.”

Malachiev is a wrestler and, having gone the distance with Jarred Brooks last time out, Pacio is confident he will be able to cope with the Russian’s takedowns,

“I believe I’ve already fought the best wrestler in my division, and that is Jarred Brooks. This gives me more confidence to face Mansur. I believe I have more tools than him in MMA.”

Some regrets

Pacio’s fight with Brooks was competitive but he spent too much time on his back to win a decision. For the 27 year old it was a valuable learning experience despite the disappointment of defeat,

“It’s more than just the skills when you ask what I’ve learned from that loss against Jarred Brooks. It’s more the mental aspect and the importance of being confident in a match.”

It is clear that Pacio has some regrets. It was his final match as a Team Lakay fighter and the former strawweight champion feels he should have been more aggressive,

“Looking at that fight, I was very stagnant. I was just waiting for him to shoot for a takedown and defend, so I was really limited.”

Against Malachiev his mentality will be slightly different. While Pacio clearly does not want to be on his back he is not going to allow the fear of being taken down to prevent him from playing to his strengths,

“If I stop Malachiev’s takedowns, great. If I don’t, then now I know what to do. That’s the most important thing. Nothing’s gonna happen if you keep saying to yourself, ‘Don’t get taken down, don’t get taken down’.”

He has certainly studied Malachiev’s previous fights and knows that the Russian will be relentless in pursuit of those takedowns,

“I think (Malachiev) is a pressure fighter. We saw it against Miado. Jeremy caught him with a good cross, and he got rocked, but he kept going. He kept gunning for that double-leg takedown because his aim was to control Miado and submit him.”

Any position

But Pacio knows it is not enough to have just one area of strength in MMA. At the elite level fighters need to be comfortable everywhere and the Filipino has been working hard to make himself more well rounded,

“The most important thing is knowing what to do whatever your position is in the fight be it on the bottom, on top, or standing. Going into this fight, I can say that I’m confident because I know what to do whether I’m on the bottom defending or on the top.”

So while Pacio would love to finish Malachiev he is aware that the fight is likely to go the distance. He is ready to fight for the full 15 minutes at Lumpinee Stadium on Saturday,

“Of course, I want to win in spectacular fashion, I want to stop him but I know what my opponent is capable of. If I could predict, I feel like this will be a three-rounder.”

Pacio might be willing to grind out a decision win. But he is not going to be intimidated by his opponent’s wrestling prowess and plans to take a much more aggressive approach than he did in the defeat to Brooks.