Joshua Pacio Defends His Title with the Perfect Arm Triangle Setup
At ONE: Masters of Fate, Joshua Pacio proved that he is not a one-sub wonder. The Team Lakay wunderkind secured a second-round arm triangle submission against fellow Filipino Rene Catalan to successfully defend his ONE strawweight championship. With the win, he improves his record to 15-3, with two of these losses already avenged against Yoshitaka Naito and Yosuke Saruta.
Submissions are not new to Pacio’s game. Prior to this, 6 of his 14 wins came via submission. All except one, however, came via guillotine or rear-naked choke. It was his fight against Pongsiri Mitsatit that turned heads, when he secured a rare hammerlock from back mount that earned the Lakay Submission of the Year honors in 2018. I wrote in a previous article (see “Joshua Pacio’s ‘Passion Lock'”) that the hammerlock was most likely a result of Mitsatit’s lack of grappling experience as much as it was Pacio’s ever-improving ground game. After Masters of Fate, I may need to reassess my stance in favor of the latter.
While his latest submission is not a rarity in MMA competition, Pacio’s textbook arm triangle setup was a thing of beauty, more so in light of Team Lakay naysayers proliferating anew since the team’s recent skid. In a fight between two Wushu practitioners, we could predict that the duel would either be a striking spectacle or be contested on the ground to negate each other’s strengths. (Although, as a second-generation Lakay, Pacio’s career has been focused on MMA since the beginning compared to his manongs’ Wushu background.)
I was actually surprised that it was Rene Catalan who was initiating the clinch and ground battles. The first round saw Catalan attempt a heel hook and then a knee bar to no avail, and in the second a failed takedown attempt from “The Challenger” led to the fight-ending sequence. Pacio converted his sprawl into a takedown, moving quickly to side mount.
Compared to the first round when the champion unloaded knees while in Catalan’s guard, Pacio kept his body close and in a block against his opponent in side mount, signaling that he had every intention to improve his position on the ground. Catalan made the critical mistake of locking Joshua’s head, which the young Lakay deftly recognized and capitalized on, locking in Rene’s head and left arm before transitioning to the veteran’s left side. To finish, Pacio pushed his left knee against Catalan’s side to make sure that the challenger cannot go after him as he moved counterclockwise ever so slightly. With a gable grip and going temple-to-temple, the champion made Catalan tap at the 2:30 mark of the second round.
To the untrained, going for a headlock while your opponent is on side mount seems logical. You’re offering some form of resistance to your opponent advancing his position or raining down elbows to your face. But, it actually gives away your arm for an arm triangle setup. Catalan should have fought for an underhook with his left arm as soon as Pacio transitioned to side mount, which would have kept his cross side safe. Still, if Pacio was hell bent on finishing from side mount, he would have gone for the same-side (right) arm, either with a straight armbar (if Catalan goes for a double underhook) or scarf hold Americana (if Catalan tried to separate with his right forearm). What makes the side mount the ideal position for submissions is that you can attack both sides with a plethora of techniques. What’s critical is catching the mistakes that the defender would make from the bottom. And in their title fight, Pacio caught Catalan clean.
Joshua Pacio is not the only Lakay who has shown stellar ground game in the team’s recent outings. In his valiant effort against Demetrious Johnson, Danny Kingad was impressive off his back, preventing the pound-for-pound great from securing a submission or dealing major damage to “The King” across three rounds. And if critics wish to point to Honorio Banario and Kevin Belingon’s submission losses, come on, Bibiano Fernandes is the BJJ top dog at AMC Pankration and D.J.’s main sparring partner, while Shinya Aoki has been many MMA fighters’ BJJ idol (and conversely, many BJJ practitioners’ MMA idol) since the olden days at Shooto and PRIDE. Moreover, as mentioned above, Belingon and Banario started as strikers, while Pacio and Kingad were groomed to be MMA fighters from the get go.
That said, Pacio cannot rest on his laurels. If anything, the champion needs to continuously work on his takedown defense. Pacio does very well in minimizing damage off his back and escaping to get back on his feet, but takedowns are scored by judges nonetheless, and they prevent Pacio from dealing damage effectively. (Maybe this is why Catalan chose to test Pacio on the ground in the first place.) I also have the impression that while Pacio’s game is well-rounded, it is his offensive groundwork that really shines. That sprawl against Catalan was very good, and it allowed Pacio to convert his opponent’s aggression into a fight-ending offensive sequence. On top, the 24-year-old is as good in dominating any opponent as anyone else. Pacio and Team Lakay can further develop his game around this key strength. Who knows? At the rate he’s improving, maybe in the near future, Pacio would be taking JMMA opponents down and destroying them at will!
What’s undeniable is that Joshua Pacio is ever maturing in his game. At Masters of Fate, he chose control over submission, and was rewarded with a smooth victory. Even the way he switched from prioritizing ground-and-pound in the first to advancing his position in the second was cerebral, ingenious, leading to Catalan making that critical error. We also have to congratulate Geje Eustaquio for shutting down Toni Taura with a spinning back kick (“How about that?”), and Eduard Folayang for his solid performance until the accidental clash of heads.
As to what’s next, Pacio says in his post-fight interview, “For me, I am the champion. My job is to keep on training, to level up, and just wait for the next opponent.” We cannot wait for what Joshua Pacio and the rest of Team Lakay will show us next!
John Hudson Go is the Editor-in-Chief of MMA Philippines.
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