Team Lakay standards to fuel its new generation fighters

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Quick! Name the best thing Eduard Folayang, Kevin Belingon, Geje Eustaquio, Edward Kelly, and other veterans of Team Lakay leave their young teammates when they finally hang their gloves.

A lot will agree it is the establishment of a winning culture that enabled them to showcase their talents to a bigger audience and get large contracts with the promotions like ONE Championship and BRAVE Combat Federation.

Compared to every other thing the well-known gym possessed, this lofty standard should continue to benefit the gym’s upcoming fighters the most in the coming years.

Every MMA fan and follower by now knows what quality of a Team Lakay fighter is, with the Baguio-based stable cementing itself as one of, if not, the best mixed martial arts gym in the country. It is clear, no other Philippine-based gym that can hold a candle to Team Lakay.

At one point, it had four of five Filipino world champions under the ONE umbrella. 2018 was the year when Eustaquio defeated Adriano Moraes to become the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Champion in June, Pacio beat Yoshitaka Naito to claim the ONE Strawweight World Title in September, Belingon edged out Bibiano Fernandes to take the ONE Bantamweight World Championship, and Folayang reclaimed his ONE Lightweight World title against Amir Khan, both in November.

Here are Jeremy Pacatiw own words upon signing his ONE contract on what being a Team Lakay member means: “When coach Mark told me that I will be signed, I was very excited and happy. But I was also nervous because I know that in ONE Championship, I’ll be fighting against high-caliber athletes. There’s also pressure because I’m a part of a well-known team like Team Lakay.

The last part of the quote is a well-placed fear Team Lakay’s young breed. Like Pacatiw and Jhanlo Mark Sangiao, the son of the gym’s head coach, many of them acknowledged it and are aware how to deal with such pressure.

Having that standard will be fuel for the next generation of fighters, from Pacio, Pacatiw, and Sangiao to the likes of Danny “The King” Kingad, Lito “Thunder Kid” Adiwang, and Stephen “The Sniper” Loman, to one day recapture that same glory and bring Team Lakay once again back to the pinnacle of ONE Championship.

“They all have that passion and absolutely, this young generation have that raw appetite to get to as far as where their Mamanongs [meaning elder brothers] have come to,” said coach Mark. “These Mamanongs’ achievements are motivation-feeder to our younger generation of fighters and I always tell them to stay driven, to train to improve, to always carry the right attitude and good character.” said Head Coach Mark Sangiao.

Of course, one can’t blame coach Mark for being a little bit more detailed when he’s at the corner of Jhanlo. After all, he couldn’t help his fatherly instincts from inevitably kicking in whenever he sees his son fight.

“When our fighters fight, I see them as professional athletes and I am their coach. That is our relationship and this applies to everyone,” he said. “But the only thing with Jhanlo is I feel more edgy. I guess that’s the father feeling kicking in, but that’s it.”

“Right now, he is the youngest among the Team Lakay athletes in ONE Championship and of course, they know him as my son. I think this kind of adds more pressure to him, but I know that he is handling this very well. He’s ready to go out there and perform.”

As it sits today, the continuity of the success of Team Lakay looks bright.

Pacio is currently the only ONE Filipino champion. Loman owned BRAVE’s longest championship reign prior to jumping ship to ONE. Kingad is the second ranked ONE flyweight contender to Moraes, only behind legendary Demetrious Johnson.

Pacatiw had just dealt Felipe Efrain a third consecutive loss, the same guy who challenged Loman for his belt. Sangiao is a young fighter with lots of promise who could become the “Kobe Bryant of Team Lakay” if he will eventually pan out like the way the former Lakers star did for NBA’s purple and gold team.

All five also seemed to know how to handle success and not let it get to their heads.

While “lakay” means “old man” in english, the Team Lakay pioneers instead show “lakay” stands also for “wisdom” and “putting on the right moves” by creating a path their younger brothers could walk and setting up a true-blue Igorot legacy they can continue.

By Armando M. Bolislis