Joshua Pacio balances life as college student and training for MMA title fight

MANILA, Philippines – In a typical Filipino household, parents encourage their children to study hard, get good grades, and chart a bright future.

When parents talk of a “bright future,” they usually refer to the mainstream professions – doctors, businessmen, lawyers.

But what if a child opts to instead wear 4-ounce gloves to fight in 3 to 5-round bouts for cold cash?

Prizefighting does not require an educational background, which is why most people attach a stigma to it – assuming that all it takes is hard guts to endure the punishing blows inside a ring or cage.

Homegrown talent Joshua Pacio is bent on breaking this stereotype.

Pacio, who's finishing a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management (HRM) at the University of the Cordilleras, has pursued his dream to be a mixed martial arts (MMA) athlete while diligently working on his homework.

Similar to a comic-book superhero with two different lives, Pacio wears his school uniform in the morning with his books. Then he puts on his training clothes to hit some punch mitts and kick pads in the afternoon.

Pacio admitted that it is not easy balancing his time between MMA and his studies, but he is prepared to do what it takes for his passion. “I am still studying, but I learned how to manage my time with the help of my coaches and senior teammates,” he told Rappler. “I love this sport. I love to fight because this is my passion.”

Pacio is still in second year as an HRM major as he had to minimize his units per semester to properly manage his MMA career and his studies.

Outstanding run

At age 20, Pacio has reaped dividends from his sacrifice as his name is starting to get recognized in the world of MMA.

Pacio is undefeated in his 8 professional matches and has yet to go the distance, finishing his opponents by either knockout or submission.

Plying his trade in minor MMA leagues such as Team Lakay Championship, Fullcon Fighting Championship and Spartacus, Pacio claimed 4 submission victories and two knockout triumphs.

Due to his outstanding run in small-scale MMA promotions, ONE Championship noticed Pacio and gave him a spot on the undercard of its “Global Rivals” event in Manila last April.

Pacio came out on top of his first ONE Championship appearance by scoring a second-round technical knockout of compatriot Rabin Catalan.

The young Baguio City native had an impressive follow-up to his ONE Championship debut by submitting Thailand’s Kritsada Kongsrichai with a first-round rear-naked choke this past August.

With Pacio becoming a highly-touted prospect in the Asian region due to his remarkable winning streak, Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao believes that he could be the next big thing in the sport, following the footsteps of his senior colleague Eduard Folayang, who is widely regarded as the face of Philippine MMA.

“There’s no pressure on my part. To me, it’s a privilege to hear that from Coach Mark. I believe in what he said because I train with the best,” said Pacio.

Although MMA offers fame and fortune, Pacio insisted that education remains his priority, knowing that being a prizefighter is not going to last forever.

“Education is very important because my career as a fighter will not last for a long time. By the time I reach 38 or 40 years old, I need to retire and have another day job to support my family,” he stated.

“Even though I love fighting, there will be a time in my life as a fighter that I will have to call it a day in competing. Meanwhile, education is something that I can use as I grow older,” Pacio added.

Extracurricular activity: World title fight

As Pacio continues to juggle his attention between schoolwork and MMA, he is in what is perhaps the biggest bout in his 3-year prizefighting run so far as Team Lakay standout vies for the ONE Championship strawweight title.

Pacio is set to challenge newly-minted division kingpin Yoshitaka Naito in the main event of ONE Championship’s “State of Warriors” card in Myanmar on October 7.

Pacio seeks to ace his tough test against Naito, who is more experienced.

Naito has his own victory parade as he is unbeaten in his 11 outings since turning pro in late 2012.

The 32-year-old Japanese captured the ONE Championship strawweight belt by defeating Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke by way of fourth-round submission last May 2016.

Prior to his stint in the Singapore-based MMA organization, Naito was a staple of the Japanese promotion Shooto, where he had 10 bouts in his 3-year tenure and once held the company’s flyweight title.

“Naito is the biggest challenge in my career. I know he is a tough and experienced fighter in the cage. But I believe in what I am capable of. I think I can compete with him on the ground and especially in striking,” Pacio said.

Pacio shrugged off skeptics’ opinion that he is ill-equipped for a world title shot, citing that fighters go through rigorous preparations with the objective of having their hands raised at the end.

“There are many who keep on saying that it’s too early for me to have this championship opportunity. We are trained for this. All fighters dream to fight for the title. It might be a little bit early for me, but I consider it as a blessing,” he explained.

If he will walk out of the Thuwanna Indoor Stadium with the gold-plated strap around his waist, Pacio plans to use it as a platform to remove the derogatory labels attached to fighters in general.

“I am giving everything I have in training and for this fight. Bringing home the belt will be a testament that pursuing your passion is not a hindrance in securing your future through education. It is also one way of breaking the stigma that fighters have in our society,” he stressed. 

MMA has a reputation as a sport or the barbaric and uncivilized. Those in the know understand that it is a sport that relies on both brains and brawn.

Pacio desires to see himself among the growing number of world-class fighters that became champions in MMA with college degrees, proving that the word “unintellectual” has no relevance to the sport.  

But for now, Pacio will sit on his armchair listening to his professor while waiting for the school bell to ring so he can trek to the gym and train. –