A Filipino vs. Filipino World Title Fight is in the Horizon
On April 12, 2019, Joshua Pacio became a two-time ONE Championship world champion after knocking out Yosuke Saruta with a head kick in the fourth round of their strawweight title bout at ONE Championship: Roots of Honor at the SM Mall of Asia Arena. More importantly, the victory laid to rest the controversy of his split decision loss to the Japanese three months prior.
With an emphatic victory against Saruta, the question begs: Who’s next for “The Passion”?
Enter Rene Catalan. After starting his MMA career with back-to-back losses to eventual champions Alex Silva and Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke (DSA), “D’ Challenger” has stringed an impressive six-fight win streak in the competitive strawweight division of ONE, highlighted by his TKO victory over former champion Yoshitaka Naito. Prior to Naito, Catalan bested then undefeated Stefer Rahardian, a ONE national tournament champion who was himself poised to become a contender in the stacked strawweight division.
I’ve said before that I wouldn’t mind seeing Pacio, Naito, and Silva compete for the strawweight crown over and over again due to how technical and evenly matched these fighters are. Silva, in particular, has yet to compete against Pacio – an interesting prospect should Silva string a couple of wins to get him back into title contention. At this point in time, however, having Naito or Silva as the next challenger does not make sense: Naito is 0-2 after back-to-back losses to Pacio and Catalan; Silva is likewise on a two-loss skid against Naito and Saruta.
Does Saruta deserve a rematch? After winning a controversial split decision then getting head kick KO’d in the rematch does not really pose a compelling case for the previous champion. Then there’s the inaugural strawweight champion DSA who has stringed a pair of wins against Himanshu Kaushik and Jeremy Miado. DSA did however lose to Riku Shibuya and Miado prior to his current streak, and Kaushik and Miado are not necessarily the strongest names to take to a title fight.
Pacio was supposed to fight Hayato Suzuki before the latter bowed out and was replaced by Saruta less than one month before the contest. Interestingly, Saruta only had one fight in ONE (albeit against perennial contender Alex Silva) before he was offered to compete for the strawweight title. Suzuki holds a victory over Pacio and is on a three-fight win streak after his lone loss to Alex Silva, but he has been inactive since making quick work of Pongsiri Mitsatit last November. Besides Catalan, Suzuki has the strongest claim to fighting for the title next. However, we would like for Suzuki to return against a top contender before vying for the belt after months of inactivity. (Mitsatit is not necessarily the strongest name to boast of before a title fight either.)
If anything, the only thing stopping ONE Championship from booking Pacio vs. Catalan for the ONE strawweight championship is the fact that it is going to be a Filipino vs. Filipino affair. Way back in 2012, when the organization announced that Honorio Banario and Eric Kelly will compete for the inaugural ONE featherweight title, the reveal was met with boo’s from the Manila crowd. That was a time when ONE’s roster was relatively thin, and the Manila crowd then may not be as mature as the Filipino MMA crowd seven years forward.
I argue that this time around, it would be a disservice to ONE Championship viewers around the world if the organization does not book Pacio vs. Catalan next. It doesn’t matter if the fight is held in the Philippines or elsewhere. Filipino vs. Filipino. Wushu vs. Wushu. Imagine the display of mutual respect between these two warriors! At 40 years old, this could very well be the swan song to a final run for Catalan; not giving him the opportunity is plain and simple unfair to all the hard work the wushu world champion has put forth in his mixed martial arts career. Finally, a Filipino vs. Filipino world title fight just shows how much our Filipino MMA fighters have grown, becoming the elite in international competition so much so that ONE has no other recourse but to book them against each other.
Joshua Pacio vs. Rene Catalan. It’s time.
John Hudson Go is the Editor-in-Chief of MMA Philippines.
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