As the event lights flicker across the venue and the music booms on the speakers signaling the start of the main event, a tall, confident and energetic teenager, Jhanlo Mark Sangiao, enters the ring of Kapangan Invasion IV. It’s the 14th mixed martial arts championship organized by the MMA group Team Lakay, participated in by some of the best amateur fighters from the North. Anyone would assume that Mark Sangiao, the boy’s father, is overwhelmed with trepidation as he sits watching on the sidelines. But the normally serious Team Lakay head coach appears cool and composed.
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There is good reason for Coach Mark's calm disposition. He knows what Jhanlo is capable of, having personally trained and guided him ever since the boy decided to dabble in martial arts. The sixteen-year-old is relatively new to MMA—this is only his second amateur fight—but he has competed and won in various martial arts competitions, from Muay Thai to Wushu, to the Grappler’ Cup.
Jhanlo performs outstandingly inside the Kapangan ring, and his father couldn’t be prouder. By the end of the evening, the young athlete has gained not only the respect of his fellow MMA fighters but also the admiration of the crowd.
For Jhanlo, it all started with a question. “A few years back, I asked him what he’d like to pursue in life and he said he wants to be an MMA champion,” Mark says. “So as his father, I give him my 100 percent support.”
His son’s interest and passion for the sport comes as no surprise. Jhanlo was exposed to it early.
“He would watch my training and fights when he was a young kid, so that must be the reason why the sport also rubbed off on him,” says the coach.
“I enjoyed watching my dad back then," Jhanlo, who was then four or five years old, recalls, "so I decided to also give it a try."
Fast forward to today and Jhanlo is preparing for the professional league. MMA has become their favorite father-son bonding activity. It’s obvious Coach Mark’s eldest child looks up to him a lot. Mark is a decorated fighter and coach and his contribution to the promotion of the sport in the country is nothing to be scoffed at. Under his tutelage, Team Lakay has produced a number of notable homegrown talents since the group's inception a decade and a half ago.
Guidance is important when grooming athletes, stresses Coach Mark, and that—on top of the physical training—is what he strives to provide Jhanlo. “I don’t subscribe to harsh discipline. I simply advise him to do what is right—train hard but also study hard. I tell him, he should always come to a fight prepared—not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually,” he says.
Mark says he has not encountered—so far—any problems when it comes to balancing his roles as parent and coach to his 16-year old. If the time comes when parenting gets in the way of his son’s training or growth as an athlete, the older Sangiao says he will not hesitate to pass Jhanlo on to another trainor.
He's also taught the young man of the realities of sports—losing being one of them. “A loss will strengthen him and help him grow, as long as he maintains a positive disposition,” he explains.
The Lakay stable leader believes his son has a lot of potential. “I see him joining the professional league by next year,” he says confidently. He should know; he trained Jhanlo. He just happens to be his dad.
Photographs from the Facebook accounts of Mark Sangiao, Jhanlo Sangiao, and Team Lakay