Team Lakay has had a phenomenal first half of 2018.
Since the beginning of the year, the camp from Baguio City, Philippines has been on an extraordinary run in ONE Championship.
Collectively, the squad has won 13 of 16 promotional bouts, and produced a pair of ONE World Champions – undisputed ONE Flyweight World Champion Geje “Gravity”Eustaquio, and ONE Interim Bantamweight World Champion Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon.
Right now, they are looking like the Golden State Warriors of mixed martial arts. It is hard to say otherwise.
Led by Mark Sangiao, they have experienced remarkable success, but can they close out the year on top?
The proud Filipinos certainly have the ability, but as history has shown, it is far from guaranteed.
Mixed Results In The Second Half Of 2016
Recently, Team Lakay has experienced a bumpy end to the annual events calendar.
In 2016, they experienced one of their greatest moments, but they contrasted with a couple of rough experiences.
Many of the collective’s most beloved members earned victories, with the highlight being veteran leader Eduard “Landslide” Folayang knocking out Japanese martial arts icon Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki to claim the ONE Lightweight World Championship in November 2016.
Despite that crowning achievement, there were a few major losses. For example, Joshua “The Passion” Pacio’s fall to the more experienced ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito in October 2016, and natural flyweight Eustaquio submitting quickly to Toni Tauru in the first round of their bantamweight tilt.
An Even Tougher Conclusion In 2017
The Baguio City camp experienced quite a turbulent period in the second half of 2017.
In August, Japanese wrestler Hayato Suzuki used his phenomenal grappling to submit Pacio, and Emilio Urrutia’s dominant takedown game led to Edward Kelly’s three-bout win streak being snapped.
A month later, former flyweight kingpin Kairat Akhmetov out-worked Eustaquio. Then, in November, Mei Yamaguchi eliminated Gina Iniong – who had won two weeks earlier – from the atomweight title picture.
Also, the most heartbreaking losses for Team Lakay happened in November at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD.
In front of a home crowd in Manila, Philippines, then-ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes submitted Danny Kingad via rear-naked choke to give him his first professional loss.
Minutes later, in the main event, ONE Featherweight World Champion Martin Nguyen made history, when he knocked out Folayang to take the lightweight belt and become the promotion’s first two-division ONE World Champion.
This was no doubt a difficult time for Team Lakay and Filipino martial arts fans. But Sangiao – the stable’s lynchpin – wisely used these setbacks to make his squad better.
“Victory and defeat both come with the territory of being a martial artist. Losing is a big part of this sport,” he said.
“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.
“Losing is the greatest teacher, and sometimes in victory, you cannot see your faults. The losses helped our athletes re-evaluate their abilities, their weaknesses, and how we can become better.”
Team Lakay may have experienced difficulty in closing previous calendar years on solid footing, but there is reason to believe things will be different in this year.
Not only has this humble collective of wushu warriors incorporated a dynamic grappling aspect into their style (cheekily described as Baguio jiu-jitsu), they are riding an incredible wave of momentum. They say 90 percent of the game is mental. If that is indeed true, then everyone on this team has got their mind right.
As we move into the second half of 2018, there is no doubt the members of the Baguio City camp will be engaging in their most challenging bouts yet.
Eustaquio will more than likely defend the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Title later this year against Moraes in a rubber match, or against top contender Reece “Lightning” McLaren. Both athletes should give “Gravity” the ultimate test on the ground.
Also, Belingon is slated to face reigning titleholder Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes – the same man who beat him in January 2016 via first-round guillotine choke — in a World Champion versus World Champion tilt later this year.
On top of that, the rest of the Lakay warriors will be back in action, including Folayang, who could face a top lightweight contender (or perhaps another undefeated Russian warrior next – stay tuned).
There is no doubt Team Lakay is one of the most elite martial arts camps in the world today, and if the troupe can extend their miraculous run and finish the year on solid footing, then they will undoubtedly earn the right to call themselves the best team in Asia.
These next four months will be crucial for the Golden State Warriors of mixed martial arts, and it starts in Shanghai, China, on Saturday, 8 September. Team Lakay’s Kelly and Honorio Banario meet Evolve MMA’s Christian Lee and Amir Khan, respectively, at ONE: BEYOND THE HORIZON.
If these two Igorot warriors can maintain their stable’s momentum, then maybe Team Lakay can get the storybook ending to what is shaping up to be a legendary year.
Bear Frazer is ONE Championship’s Features Editor. All opinions expressed are the writer’s own.