Before former ONE Featherweight World Champion Honorio “The Rock” Banario became a Filipino hero, he spent his collegiate days competing against his current team.
A chance showdown with one of his future teammates would lead Banario to join Team Lakay, where he kicked off a stellar professional career that saw him reach the pinnacle of martial arts.
When he was young child, Banario aspired to finish school in order to help his family. He was raised in Mankayan, a quiet rural municipality in Benguet province, and although the family did not live in poverty, life was hard having to deal with financial issues in a struggling Philippine economy.
“My parents were farmers,” the 28-year-old recalls. “Although we were not dirt poor, we still had a tough time every month making ends meet. They taught us early in life about the value of education, and urged us to finish school and make something of ourselves.”
Banario dreamed of becoming a police officer, so when the opportunity to earn a college scholarship came up by joining a local martial arts program, the Filipino stalwart jumped at the opportunity.
He studied Criminology at the Cordillera Career Development College (CCDC), and joined the school’s newly-formed amateur wushu team. As a result, he received a free ride.
“It was 100 percent free tuition,” Banario explains. “My parents worked very hard to pay for tuition, so anything I could do to help, I wanted to do it. I knew their dream for us was to finish school, and earn a degree. Thankfully, I tried out, and got accepted.”
Banario quickly became one of the school’s top athletes, and competed in various local tournaments. One of the schools “The Rock” competed against was the University Of The Cordilleras, which featured a wushu team led by Filipino martial arts pioneer, Mark Sangiao.
“Our school team was actually big rivals with Team Lakay back when we were young,” Banario explains. “We would regularly compete in tournaments, and our teams would face each other multiple times.”
In particular, the Filipino remembers one time when he clashed with Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly in the final match of an inter-school tournament.
“He kicked my butt,” Banario says with a laugh. “I lost the match. We still joke around about it today. But my performance impressed coach Mark, and soon he would invite me to train with them in the summer.”
Ever since working with Sangiao, who heads the country’s national wushu program, Banario blossomed into a top talent. He was selected for the national junior wushu team, and later joined forces with Kelly and the rest of Team Lakay to compete overseas. “The Rock” also won multiple national, and regional, wushu titles.
He is happy to share the knowledge and experience he has gained throughout the years to his younger teammates, and never fails to remind them about the importance of education.
“I will forever be grateful to coach Mark for believing in me,” Banario says. “Because of martial arts, I was able to finish school and earn my degree. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.”
Banario is looking to have a few more proud moments, beginning on Friday, 20 April, in Manila. He will look to extend his four-bout win streak when he meets battle-tested veteran Adrian “The Hunter” Pang at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR.
A victory over a top contender like Pang all undoubtedly elevate “The Rock” closer to a lightweight world title opportunity. But he is not putting that pressure on himself. He is just trying to do his best to have another big win.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs throughout my career, but I am still here. I am still persevering. I am still giving it my all,” Banario says. “Win or lose, I will give my best when I step into the ring.”