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It was Team Lakay Head Coach Mark Sangiao who delivered the news Gina Iniong is taking an indefinite leave from active MMA competition in June, it is him again telling Filipino martial arts fans that Iniong has every intent to return to action at the proper time.
Iniong is one athlete on the sidelines who has been watching her teammates fly to Singapore lately to perform inside the ONE Circle.
She must have been missing the thirst and joy of an athlete performing her craft and the means to earn a living that she laid all the debate to rest on whether or not she wanted to return to competition in a recent interview.
Iniong was possibly heading straight towards a lucrative MMA career as she was right in the mix for the top prize of the ONE women’s atomweight division when ONE Championship released its first ever rankings.
She was the fifth ranked contender in the division but due to her inactivity, she was recently removed from the rankings with Thailand’s Stamp Fairtex taking her place.
Denice Zamboanga currently occupies the Number One spot followed by, Meng Bo, Lin Heqin, Mei Yamaguchi, And Stamp.
“When she’s all fit to start her training, then she’s back,” Sangiao confirmed Iniong’s willingness to continue her career.
Iniong has been out of action for months after announcing that she was pregnant with their first child, with husband Richard Araos.
Just this week, Iniong gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Gianna Rose.
Sangiao believes Iniong is targeting a slot in the 8-woman ONE Atomweight Grand Prix.
“Actually, she’s very eager to be in the Atomweight Grand Prix, but she needs to be patient and approach it at the right time. I have no doubt she will be better than ever. Gina is very much motivated. She’s focused and determined,” said Sangiao.
“We have seen how Gina performs in the ring or in the Circle, and she’s capable of anything. She has great wins facing some outstanding athletes. Of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement. But she’s eager to learn and enhance her skills. I think fans will be happy when she returns. If she can get a spot in the tournament, we will do our best to prepare her.”
Iniong last appeared during ONE: Fire & Fury on January 31, 2020 at the Mall of Asia Arena where she delighted Cordilleran and Filipino fight fans by displaying a fighter wearing the patented Team Lakay red colors instigate a grappling game and dominate the fight.
Team Lakay fighters are traditionally known for their tendency to force opponents to a standup, strike oriented match and Asha “Knockout Queen” Roka, known for her being a knockout artist, was supposed to be the perfect opponent for an explosive strike-filled bout.
The “Conviction” instead initially dismayed the audiences’ expectation of a fistfight and turned it into an equally entertaining grappling bout that she initiated all the time and won with a unanimous decision verdict.
Iniong is currently sporting a 9-4 MMA win-loss record. She is 6-2 when performing inside a ONE Circle.
Although no details have yet been confirmed, athletes projected to participate in the Atomweight Grand Prix include Stamp Fairtex, Mei Yamaguchi, Meng Bo, and Itsuki Hirata, as well as #1-ranked atomweight Denice Zamboanga of the Philippines.
Along with many Filipino fans, Sangiao has witnessed Zamboanga’s rise to becoming the division’s top contender, but feels the 23-year-old still needs a few more wins under her belt to really round out into a star.
“She (Denice) has had a few good wins in ONE. She has that potential, but I think she still needs more experience. With a little more experience, she can be very dangerous in this sport,” said Sangiao.
The Team Lakay head coach also said it wouldn’t be a problem if Iniong faced Zamboanga somewhere down the line.
“We don’t say no to any fight offers from ONE. It won’t be the first time a Filipino will face a fellow Filipino. If they give Denice to Gina, then so be it. Gina has the maturity in the battle scene and in Team Lakay, we have that sense of always being positive. So if the match happens, we have high hopes for Gina.”
By: Armando M. Bolislis