Team Lakay vets see Joshua Pacio copping ONE Championship gold

TITLE ON HORIZON? Joshua Pacio is set for a championship shot next month. Photo from ONE Championship

TITLE ON HORIZON? Joshua Pacio is set for a championship shot next month.

Photo from ONE Championship

SINGAPORE – Team Lakay's senior fighters have high hopes that highly-touted prospect Joshua Pacio will make history by becoming the youngest Filipino mixed martial arts (MMA) competitor to win a world title.

Pacio is set to challenge Japanese fighter Yoshitaka Naito for the ONE Championship strawweight title in the main event of the "State of Warriors" card, which takes place at the Thuwanna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar on October 7.

Honorio Banario, a former ONE Championship featherweight kingpin, is confident that Pacio will walk out with his hand raised against Naito, despite the impressive résumé of the Japanese champion. 

Naito is unbeaten in his 11 outings as a prizefighter and was a staple of the Japanese promotion Shooto, where he had 10 bouts in his 3-year run and once held the company's flyweight title.

"I am very positive that he will win against Naito," Banario said. "He is very enthusiastic and focused on his training. He has a lot of experience fighting in martial arts. Age doesn't matter."

Pacio, a 20-year-old Baguio City native, is undefeated in his 8 professional matches. He has yet to go the distance in his 3-year prizefighting career, finishing his opponents by either knockout or submission.

2016 has already been an outstanding year for Pacio as he made his successful ONE Championship debut in April by scoring a second-round technical knockout of compatriot Rabin Catalan. He also submitted Thailand's Kritsada Kongsrichai with a first-round rear-naked choke last August.

Meanwhile, one-time flyweight title contender Geje Eustaquio argued that Pacio should not be counted out in a 5-round championship clash, citing the latter's track record in turning his underdog status into an advantage.

"As we always say, this is MMA. We cannot say or calculate. Once they are inside the cage, anything may happen. This game is a game of chance, wherein everyone has a chance and deserves a chance. This time Joshua was given that chance. Once they lock the cage, I believe he can bring the belt home," Eustaquio said.

Although skeptics continue to criticize ONE Championship's decision to grant Pacio a world title shot, Kevin Belingon stressed that his younger teammate paid his dues to earn a contender's status. (READ: Joshua Pacio balances life as college student and training for MMA title fight)

"He is very young, just 20 years old, and is fighting for the title. Joshua is very determined to win this fight. Opportunity comes at any time. I think this is his opportunity to be a champion," Belingon said.

Belingon will be competing side-by-side with Pacio as he is slated to face Tajikistan's Muin Gafurov in a 3-round bantamweight bout on the "State of Warriors" undercard.

"This fight is very exciting because Joshua is fighting for the title. Meanwhile, I am also fighting a tough guy. There are a lot of things in store for Team Lakay," Belingon shared.

Even if Pacio is facing a more experienced combatant, Banario remains optimistic that their brother-in-arms will have his name announced as the winner against Naito.

Banario asserted that experience should be measured by the number of fights and not by age.

"He has enough experience to fight Naito for the title. I am not worried about him. I am 100% positive that Joshua will win the fight," Banario maintained.

With Team Lakay struggling in major title fights for the last 3 years, Eustaquio looks forward to Pacio possibly ending the highly-revered MMA group's losing skid. (READ: Upcoming title fights will erase past championship woes, says Team Lakay coach)

"I am 100% confident he will bring the belt back to the Philippines," Eustaquio said. "Joshua is perhaps one of the best second generation of Team Lakay fighters. By now, we are looking forward to Joshua being one of the youngest champions in the big leagues." – Rappler.com