Franklin: Pacio can keep up with experienced Japanese foe

MANILA, Philippines – Although experience plays a pivotal aspect in mixed martial arts' 5-round championship clash, retired fighter Rich Franklin believes Filipino prospect Joshua Pacio is ripe enough to receive a world title shot. 

The 20-year-old Baguio City native is set to challenge Japanese stalwart Yoshitaka Naito for the ONE Championship strawweight belt in the main event of the "State of Warriors" card.

Their showdown takes place at the Thuwanna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar on Friday, October 7.

Pacio is being touted by numerous cageside observers as the most promising young competitor in the Philippine MMA scene today, but some took a step back when he was granted a crack at Naito's ONE Championship strawweight trinket. 

While many believe it might be too early for Pacio to be positioned in a title picture, Franklin stressed that the Team Lakay standout is primed to dance with Naito. 

"When you look at his poise and athleticism inside the cage, you can see in Pacio that he belongs [to] a different caliber. Yes, he is young. But there is a potential that he can truly maximize in this big fight feel," Franklin told Rappler.

Naito is unbeaten in 11 outings as a prizefighter and was a staple of Japanese MMA promotion Shooto, where he had 10 bouts in his 3-year stint. 

In addition, the 32-year-old Japanese once held the Shooto flyweight championship and successfully defended it twice.

Franklin, who was once the UFC middleweight titleholder before he became ONE Championship's vice president, explained that it all boils down to the proper execution of a game plan even if Pacio's opponent is a veteran of the sport. 

"I do believe that experience will play a factor because Naito is a very paced fighter. But these Team Lakay guys, they always come up with good game plans. I am sure that they will look into his style," he said.

2016 has already been an outstanding year for Team Lakay in ONE Championship as the highly-revered MMA group has been riding high on a winning streak in non-title fights since April. 

Pacio was one of the main contributors to Team Lakay's victory roll in ONE Championship, scoring a second-round technical knockout of compatriot Rabin Catalan in his promotional debut last April and then submitting Thailand's Kritsada Kongsrichai with a first-round rear-naked in August.

Naito might have the championship experience, but Franklin expects Pacio to make the necessary adjustments.

"The good thing about Naito is that he doesn't do anything tricky. Unlike Pacio, he's not going to bring something in the cage like 'Whoa, I was not expecting that.' That's going to work [to] Pacio's benefit," he said. –