2018 will be over and done in a few weeks, but before the year closes, Team Lakay can already proclaim it as a banner year for its fighters because of their record breaking bounty.
Widely associated with the local mixed martial arts (MMA) scene in the Philippines, Team Lakay has produced a big number of notable homegrown talents since its inception a decade and a half ago. But this year is an extraordinary one; Team Lakay now boasts of five world champions under its wing.
Since the beginning of the year, the legendary fight camp from La Trinidad, Benguet has been on a spectacular run in ONE Championship.
Geje Eustaquio kicked off the year for Team Lakay by copping the ONE Interim Flyweight World Championship with a unanimous decision victory over Kazakhstan’s Kairat Akhmetov in a rematch this past January.
Eustaquio was enshrined as the undisputed flyweight kingpin of the promotion five months later when he edged out Brazilian arch-nemesis Adriano Moraes in a world title unification bout.
It was followed by Kevin Belingon, who had his first taste of gold last July when he routed two-division titleholder Martin Nguyen by way of unanimous decision for the ONE Interim Bantamweight World Championship.
Belingon became ONE Championship’s official bantamweight champion by defeating longtime division ruler Bibiano Fernandes via split decision in their highly-anticipated title unification rematch last November 9.
Meanwhile, Joshua Pacio settled the score with Yoshitaka Naito in September, dethroning his Japanese rival by unanimous decision to bring home the ONE Strawweight World Championship.
Eduard Folayang joined Eustaquio, Belingon and Pacio in the ensemble of world champions under the organization’s banner, recapturing the ONE Lightweight World Championship at the expense of Singapore’s Amir Khan last Friday, November 23.
Outside the confines of ONE Championship, the signature bright red colors of the squad also glared starkly in the Middle East-headquartered Brave Combat Federation as Stephen Loman successfully defended his bantamweight crown on two occasions in 2018.
Loman easily took care of South Africa’s Frans Mlambo via unanimous decision in a rematch last June before he outpointed Brazil’s Felipe Efrain to retain the Brave CF bantamweight title last November 16.
Speaking on behalf of his teammates, Folayang singles out Team Lakay coach Mark Sangiao for his pivotal role in their success.
“Coach Mark should have had a belt,” Folayang said. “We are a good team because we have a brilliant and selfless coach who supports us all the way.”
At the peak of his professional MMA stint in 2010, Sangiao opted to hang his gloves for good, to focus on coaching Folayang and other members of Team Lakay.
Although he had to make the ultimate sacrifice at the age of 30, Sangiao has no regrets, especially after seeing what his fighters have become.
“When I see these belts, I know that my sacrifice was worth it. I feel that I’m also a champion,” the Team Lakay headmaster stated. “I decided to retire eight years ago. I’m a positive guy, so I don’t regret my decision to retire. I’m very happy with it.”
Sangiao has guided his band of warriors to national and international prestige, but the pathway to becoming one of Asia’s premier MMA stables was not without challenges.
With all of their accomplishments this year, it is hard to imagine that at one point in time, they were almost forgotten. A few years ago, some Filipino fans slowly began to lose faith in Team Lakay due to the series of setbacks on the global MMA stage.
As Team Lakay dove to the lowest of lows from mid-2013 to 2015, Sangiao kept their ship afloat, regrouping his athletes for an impressive resurgence the following year.
2016 was the breakout year for Team Lakay, embarking on an incredible 16-match winning streak while showcasing a magnificently-improved ground game to thwart several top opponents.
In addition, three of its members earned world title shots in 2016, with Folayang being the only Team Lakay representative to capture gold by defeating Japanese legend Shinya Aoki.
According to Sangiao, numerous heartbreaking setbacks in previous years fueled their desire to get better.
“We would see comments that our ground game was still weak, and we took those comments as positive, not negative. We took past losses as lessons, so that we could improve, and that’s why we never stopped training and improving ourselves. We worked on our weaknesses,” he explained.
Following a stellar 2016, Team Lakay managed to sustain the momentum through the third quarter of 2017 but found themselves on a bit of a downslide at the end of the year, experiencing tough setbacks in high-profile bouts.
After concluding 2017 on shaky ground, Team Lakay regained their solid footing in 2018 and never looked back.
“Victory and defeat both come with the territory of being a martial artist. Losing is a big part of this sport,” Sangiao discussed. “I would be a hypocrite if I said I was fine with the losses, but let’s be real and say that these losses have served as opportunities for us to re-examine the areas of our skills that we have to improve on.”
Finishing their campaign with five world titles in MMA, Sangiao says 2018 is Team Lakay’s most successful year so far.
“It’s our biggest year. We won titles and received many awards this year. This is the result of our hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. Like we always say, this is our passion. We love what we do. These awards and titles are just the fruit of our hard labor,” he mentioned.
For Sangiao, it’s a dream that has come true.
“When I started this group in 2003, I did not even think that it would get to this. All I thought at the time was that I liked what I was doing,” he remembered. “I am happy with the outcome of my passion.”
It appears that everything Team Lakay lays its hands on turns into gold. The fighter turned coach can only look to the future with more confidence than ever before.
“It’s only the beginning. There is more to come. We look forward to defending our belts and prevailing as champions for a long time,” he declared.