Honorio “The Rock” Banario has experienced a career renaissance as of late, putting together a three-fight win streak after losing five in a row.
It is a feat the former ONE Featherweight World Champion chalks up to one simple philosophy: “As a martial artist, it is very important to re-create myself,” the 27-year-old says.
Banario has never been the type of person to remain stagnant. He is a forward-thinking individual who constantly seeks re-creation and evolution. In fact, the goals and even the attitude of the man called “The Rock” have evolved quite dramatically over the years.
Growing up in Mankayan, a mining town in the Benguet province, he was often picked on by other kids in elementary school.
“When I was six or seven, I was bullied,” he admits. “I had low self-esteem, and my classmates looked down on me.”
A self-described shy kid, Banario, who grew up with five other siblings, had a fascination with international heroes and cultural icons. He was mesmerized by larger-than-life martial arts practitioners and sports entertainers such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.
Banario did not have any intentions on becoming a martial artist, however. He dreamed about being a police officer, and becoming one was his primary objective.
Still, he expanded his horizons and took up Muay Thai in 2005. He decided to practice the discipline as a way to build his fitness. It was one of the first times he embarked on a path of his own.
“My friends invited me to play basketball, but I was not interested,” he says, opting to stick with his newly-discovered love for combat sports.
What began as an activity to stay in shape and build confidence was the foundation for Banario’s career as a professional fighter. A year into his Muay Thai training, while attending Cordillera Career Development College, “The Rock” was thrown another curve ball when the program was scrapped.
The college decided to implement boxing instead. Wanting to continue his martial arts training, he took up boxing and also began to practice wushu. Like Muay Thai, the Filipino excelled at his two new crafts, but had not thought about fighting until signing up for competitions in school.
“I joined and won a gold medal in both events,” he says. “That is when I started to love it.”
Despite his success, Banario was on a clear path to becoming a police officer. It was his life’s dream and the reason he attended university.
He graduated in 2009 with a Bachelors Of Science in Criminology, and even passed the board exam for the police academy. Policing is an honorable profession in the Philippines and, with Banario’s growing martial arts pedigree, he would not have had a problem protecting himself and others on duty.
“I wanted to be a police officer to serve my country and serve my people,” he says of his motivations. “I wanted to protect people from harm. I have seen a lot of bad things — drinking, fighting, killing. I wanted to patrol the alleys and streets to keep bad things from happening.”
Although everything seemed to line up for him to enter the police force, the pull of martial arts was simply too strong. Banario abandoned his law enforcement aspirations, as his childhood dream evolved from being a police officer to becoming a mixed martial artist.
If there were ever any doubts, they were crushed in 2010 when “The Rock” won his MMA debut in the first round via submission. He finished his next five opponents in impressive fashion, claimed a MMA championship in a local promotion, and went on to sign with ONE Championship. The debut did not go as planned, however, as he succumbed to a choke in the first minute of the bout.
Undeterred by defeat, the Filipino fighter rebounded in a major way. He thumped Andrew Benibe at ONE: PRIDE OF A NATION, and then made history as the Philippines’ first-ever MMA world champion, defeating Eric Kelly at ONE: RETURN OF WARRIORS to become the inaugural ONE Featherweight World Champion.
“I felt very honored to be the first featherweight champion,” he says. “I am very happy to have made history and it was a very good opportunity for me.”
As the champion, Banario was high on life. He loved MMA, and being able to travel the world and compete against the very best in the world was the cherry on the cake. That was when it all went very wrong.
Banario hit a five-fight losing skid, four of those defeats via finishes. Where most fighters would consider hanging up the gloves, Banario made a bold bet on himself. He moved up to lightweight.
“If you are not good at featherweight, you have to find another weight so you can pursue your dream,” he explains. “I felt that I was cutting too much weight. That was the issue.
“In training, I am very strong, but when I cut weight, my energy and strength drop down to fifty per cent. My reactions and mental instincts are not one hundred per cent. It feels like my body is still recovering.”
Banario was right about the weight cut, as he immediately got back to his winning ways and is currently riding a three-fight winning streak. That’s also due in part to ONE’s new weight regulation program which bans weight cutting by dehydration, allowing Banario to compete closer to his natural weight.
Although he has found a new home at lightweight, Banario will have to wait a while before entering title contention. Though he is undoubtedly a contender in the division, the current ONE Lightweight World Champion is his Team Lakay MMA stablemate, Eduard Folyang, and the two refuse to duel.
“I do not want to fight any of my teammates. We are brothers,” he says. “Until the time comes [when Folayang loses the belt or retires], I am just focused on improving myself and getting a lot of experience before getting the title.”
Even when Banario decides to hang up the gloves, do not expect him to trade it in for a police badge. He has completely moved on from his childhood dream, saying that plan is gone because of martial arts.
Even in his post-MMA life, he sees himself evolving to the next level.
“I want to move forward,” he states. “My plan is to open a gym, and teach youngsters martial arts and discipline. You are learning how to defend yourself and also how to be a good person.”
Banario has come a long way from wanting to emulate the martial artists he saw on TV while being bullied in school. Without a doubt, the next generation of fighters will be telling us they grew up watching Honorio “The Rock” Banario and his constant evolution, and it is a legacy “The Rock” himself would be proud of.