There is no disputing that Team Lakay has secured a place among ruling powerhouses in the well-entrenched mixed martial arts (MMA) scene in Asia. Its athletes compete at the world championship level in various organizations.
Under the tutelage of head coach Mark Sangiao, Team Lakay has grown into the Philippines’ premier MMA stable, producing seven world champions in the sport, including Eduard Folayang, Kevin Belingon, Geje Eustaquio, Joshua Pacio, Honorio Banario and Crisanto Pitpitunge. Aside from the La Trinidad, Benguet-based squad’s revered world titleholders, it is also home to top-tier contenders and household names such as Rey Docyogen, Danny Kingad, Edward Kelly, Gina Iniong, Mark Eddiva, Dave Galera, Roldan Sangcha-an and April Osenio.
With the continuous rise of Team Lakay in the sport, Sangiao is determined to continue his passion for producing top-notch MMA competitors from the Philippines. Even with the influx of young combatants from all corners of the archipelago, the coach’s formula of honing talent remains consistent and results in a fresh batch of flag bearers.
The spotlight will shine upon his new breed of Igorot warriors as five of them are slated to take part in Brave Combat Federation’s maiden live event in the country. This takes place at the 20,000-seater SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay tomorrow, March 15.
The Sniper strikes
Dubbed “Brave 22: Storm of Warriors,” the card is headlined by Team Lakay’s Stephen Loman who, in the main event, defends his Brave bantamweight championship for the third time against former featherweight kingpin Elias Boudegzdame. With a professional record of 12-2, Loman made history as the Middle East-headquartered promotion’s inaugural bantamweight titlist in November 2017. Then, he defeated India’s Gurdarshan Mangat by way of first-round technical knockout.
Since his world title-winning performance, the Baguio native has successfully defended his crown twice; he routed Frans Mlambo via unanimous decision in a June 2018 rematch before outlasting Felipe Efrain in a thrilling showdown five months later.
Known by the moniker “Sniper” due to his pinpoint accuracy in delivering strikes, the 27-year-old stresses that his homecoming has been long overdue. “I am very happy that Brave is finally coming to the Philippines. I can’t wait to put on a show for the fans here, and around the world,” says Loman, who last fought on home soil in April 2016. He outpointed fellow Filipino hard-hitter Ernie Braca under the Pacific Xtreme Combat banner then.
“I’m really thankful for Brave because they have given me a platform to represent my country in other places. I have proudly represented my country in other areas, and I will fight now in front of my fans,” he adds.
Sangiao echoed Loman’s excitement, stressing that his pupil is extra motivated to have his hand raised in triumph on Friday. “We feel no pressure about defending the title. If anything, Stephen is excited to defend the belt,” the Team Lakay headmaster bares.
Despite having the hometown crowd behind them on fight night, Sangiao expects that Loman’s mettle as a mixed martial artist will be put to a test as he shares the cage with the one-time Brave featherweight champion. “His opponent is a former champion. He is no easy foe. This kind of match will be beneficial to the growth of Stephen as a competitor,” he says.
Boudegzdame captured the coveted hardware of the company’s 145-pound weight class in March 2017, submitting Masio Fullen with his signature triangle choke in the first round. Following a fourth-round submission win over Jakub Kowalewicz to retain the world title in March 2018, the French-Algerian grappling wizard relinquished the Brave featherweight championship to Bubba Jenkins six months later. He seeks to place himself back on the winning track by accomplishing the rare feat of becoming a two-division world champion at the expense of Loman.
“He’s still a champion, in my eyes. He fought and beat some of the top guys in his previous division,” Loman assesses. “He’s not an easy fighter to deal with because he has a good striking game and his Jiu-Jitsu is top class.”
But Sangiao is confident that Loman will walk out of the cage with the prestigious belt around his waist. “Fans can expect a better Stephen Loman. He is young and talented. I think Stephen will win this fight,” the coach declares.
Along with Loman, four other Team Lakay young stars are scheduled to strut their wares at Brave 22: Storm of Warriors.
Jeremy Pacatiw seeks to extend his winning streak to three bouts as he locks horns with Filipino debutant Mark Alcoba in a three-round bantamweight encounter.
Harold Banario, the younger brother of ex-ONE Featherweight World Champion Honorio Banario, returns to action after a nearly four-year hiatus to take on short-notice replacement Ariel Oliveros.
Jon Cris Corton collides with Finland’s Abdul Hussein, while Jomar Pa-ac makes hopes to reinsert his name into the winner’s column against India’s Satya Behuria in a flyweight contest.
Team Lakay’s longtime mentor stresses that if Loman and his teammates play their cards right, they could follow in the footsteps of Folayang and their other seniors as superstars of Philippine MMA. “I honestly believe that they could be the next big stars of MMA. All of them have the potential. But of course, they should maintain their work ethic to get into that position,” Sangiao shares.
Sangiao refuses to compare Loman and the likes of Pacatiw, Banario, Corton and Pa-ac with the first generation of Team Lakay stalwarts, asserting that their batch was born in a totally-different era of MMA. “It was discipline going up against another style in the past, before the sport took a major turn that changed the landscape of the sport,” he explains. “In today’s MMA, versatility is the key to success.”
With five of his up-and-coming wards earning an opportunity to carve their names on the international MMA stage, Sangiao is delighted that he has done his job to pave the way for them to reach this point.
“These kids have a good future ahead of them,” he concludes. “As a coach, I am happy for them. Seeing them compete in one of the biggest MMA promotions in the world gives me a sense of fulfilment.”
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