Joshua “The Passion” Pacio wants to regain the ONE Strawweight World Title, but Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta isn’t going to give it to him without a fight.
The two men will rematch at ONE: ROOTS OF HONOR on 12 April after a spirited battle in January that saw Saruta win after a distinguished career in Shooto and elsewhere in Japan.
Saruta-Pacio II is the co-main event that will take place just prior to the return of ONE Featherweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen who defends his title against veteran former ONE Featherweight Champion Narantungalag Jadambaa in a compelling main event.
While fans will turn out to see the return of Nguyen, millions will be interested in the second championship meeting between Saruta and Pacio.
Let’s take a look at the specifics of the rematch including what both Saruta and Pacio must do to emerge victoriously, and as the ONE Strawweight World Champion.
Prior to their first meeting, everyone would have sworn Pacio was the superior striker. That may still be the case, but thanks to the work Saruta did in the first bout, he has created some doubt in this category.
Saruta’s unorthodox style, with a bent front arm, wide hooks and his ability to close distance explosively gave Pacio problems–especially early in the bout. Pacio struggled to time Saruta, and even when he did, the Japanese champion absorbed the shots and secured a takedown or a body lock against the cage.
Pacio competed on his back foot a lot in this bout, which is not exactly what he wants to do in the rematch. Saruta used his striking well to set up the takedowns and the overall approach had Pacio off balance. Perhaps Pacio will be better prepared, considering Saruta was a late replacement for Hayato Suzuki in the first bout. If he is, we might see the more dynamic striking we’ve come to expect from Pacio.
Without question, Saruta proved himself to be the more effective grappler. In the first bout, he was clearly the stronger martial artist from a purely physical standpoint. His grip was tight during body locks and he remained heavy from top position after takedowns. It was Pacio’s wariness of the takedown that helped to make Saruta’s striking more effective. Unless something has drastically changed in a matter of months, there is no reason to believe Pacio has closed the gap when it comes to grappling.
I’m not sure how much the mixed martial arts community factored in Saruta’s advantage in experience over Pacio before the first bout. Saruta has had 30 professional bouts compared to 19 for Pacio.
While the difference is just 11 matches, the quality of the opposition for Pacio before he got to ONE Championship could be a factor. His past 10 bouts have been with ONE, and he’s won seven and lost three. It should also be noted, all three of Pacio’s losses have come at the hands of Japanese martial artists. He’s avenged one of those defeats with a win over Yoshitaka Naito in September 2018, and he hopes to even the score with another of the great warriors from The Land of the Rising Sun.
Keys to Victory
To regain his title, Pacio must find a way to put a halt to Saruta’s advancements in the cage. In the first bout, Saruta took control of the center of the cage and dictated the pace of the bout for much of the five rounds.
If becoming more of an attacker than a counterstriker is what is required, that’s an approach Pacio may need to take. He cannot allow Saruta to control the pace and identity of this bout. In a match that seems destined to go the distance again, Pacio can’t afford to allow judges to see him the way they did in the first bout.
To retain his title, Saruta has to remain unpredictable. He was able to keep Pacio guessing for most of the first bout. He must continue to disguise his takedowns and fire the kind of power shots that will keep Pacio honest. Saruta stung Pacio with a few counter right hooks. While Pacio wasn’t hurt enough to be finished, he felt the power and had to respect it for the remainder of the bout.
If Saruta can do that again, he has a great chance to retain his title.
Sometimes, an opponent just has your number. Unfortunately for Pacio, that might be the case with Saruta. Stylistically, he may always give him a problem. There was a ton of apprehension from Pacio in the first bout, and so little time has passed since then, it’s difficult to imagine things will shift in the challenger’s favor.
It’s a tough prediction because Pacio is such a dynamic young competitor. Perhaps a victory for either will set up a match with Hayato Suzuki sometime later this year.