Honorio “The Rock” Banario has authored one of the most inspiring comebacks in ONE Championship history.
After the former ONE Featherweight World Champion experienced a tough five-bout skid, he moved up to lightweight, and has felt right at home in his new division.
The 28-year-old Benguet, Philippines resident now finds himself on a four-bout win streak, and is blazing a trail towards another world title with a series of awe-inspiring performances.
On Friday, 20 April, he will attempt to deliver another one against a tough opponent.
“It is a big challenge for me, personally,” he says. “If I can beat Pang, it will prove that I am in the top level at lightweight.”
Banario knows what it is like to be at the top level already. The Filipino kicked off his professional career on a six-bout win streak, and finished every single one of his adversaries. That led to him joining ONE Championship in February 2012.
However, three months after capturing the gold, he lost it. A downward spiral would soon follow.
“After winning the title, I could not cope with the changes in my career,” Banario admits. “Things were moving too fast. I lost the title in my first defense against Koji Oishi. It was a shock for me.”
By the end of 2015, Banario was on the brink of early retirement. He had seriously contemplated leaving the cage for good. But those around “The Rock” urged him to continue his journey. They believed in his talent and ability.
“My team, my family, and everyone who supported me told me not to give up. Even if I wanted to give up already, they pushed me to continue, and motivated me,” he explains. “I would not be here today if it were not for my incredible support system.”
The Filipino decided to make a critical change. He moved up to the lightweight division, where he was noticeably more confident, and had an undeniable spring in his step.
“I felt stronger, and faster. I love competing at lightweight. [It is] my natural weight,” he says. “What’s more, I no longer felt the pressure to perform. Everyone was expecting me to lose. A huge weight was off my shoulders.”
Banario’s resurgence continues on 20 April, and a victory could elevate him to title contention for the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
Pang, however, would love to play the spoiler, especially in front of the Filipino crowd.
The Australian is a perennial lightweight competitor famous for his extreme toughness, and has walked through opponents with his overwhelming power. In addition to being a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, he is a hard hitter who is known for dropping foes with a single punch.
Despite Pang being 40, “The Rock” believes age is just a number, and his opponent’s veteran experience makes him particularly more dangerous.
“Even if he is up there in age, he has not appeared to have slowed down. He is still very strong, and he has the experience of a veteran, which is very tough to deal with,” Banario acknowledges.
“I feel as though I have better cardio than he does, and I am a little taller than he is, so I am going to use that to my advantage. I am young, and I am strong, so I feel very confident that I can outlast him, conditioning-wise. In terms of skill, however, we are very even. We have a similar skill set.”
There is no doubt that if Banario can defeat Pang, it will be the biggest win of his newfound career as a lightweight.
In addition to that, his Team Lakay stablemate Eduard Folayang beat Pang in August 2016, and that catapulted him to a title opportunity for the ONE Lightweight World Championship three months later, which he would go on to win.
Banario finds himself in a comparable situation, and a victory over the hard-hitting Aussie would certainly inch him closer to his lightweight world title aspirations. “The Rock” is focused, and prepared to perform to the best of his ability.
“They say he is very powerful. I want to feel that power, and see for myself. I have handled some very big punchers in my career, but is Adrian Pang is the strongest? We will see,” Banario says.
“I feel as though the momentum is still on my side. I want to continue what I started. I feel strong, and ready. I am at 100 percent now.”