How Lito Adiwang's Homecoming Set Him Up For Breakout Success

Lito Adiwang is one of the standout discoveries from Rich Franklin’s ONE Warrior Series (OWS) in 2018.

The ONE Championship Vice President’s search for the top up-and-coming talent in Asia led him and his team to a heavy-hitting prospect from the highlands of Baguio in the Philippines.

This 25-year-old has shown he has the talent to succeed with his performances in the ring, and he could be set for a breakout year in 2019.

Before the world begins to recognize his talent on the global stage for martial arts, learn about what has brought Adiwang to the brink of stardom.

Finding A Sanctuary

Born and raised in Baguio, Adiwang is the youngest of seven children. His parents are farmers, but they separated during his high school days.

It was a difficult time for him, but he soon found a way to cope with the stresses of his situation.

“At the time they separated, it was only me and my brother who were under their care,” he says.

“My other siblings were studying elsewhere so they stayed in boarding houses near where they studied. I was studying nearby, so I stayed at our house.”

“I think that’s why I pursued sports and martial arts so that I can have an outlet. It’s difficult to focus when you’re pressured at home with the issues that we were facing – and then going to school to deal with academics.

“I thought getting into sports could at least help me vent out my emotional stress.”

Inspired by the height of Manny Pacquiao’s career early in his life, Adiwang became part of the Baguio City National High School – Sto. Tomas Annex boxing team. He represented the school in multiple competitions.

In college, Adiwang took up a degree in education, in the hope of starting a career teaching physical education.

During this time, he turned his martial arts focus to wushu, and he became a two-time regional and national gold medalist in wushu sanshou.

A New Dream

After finding success in wushu, Adiwang caught the eye of the Filipino national team. However, he found it difficult to juggle his martial arts career and his studies. 

“I wasn’t able to take the pressure of training and studying at the same time, so I decided to choose just one,” he explains.

“I realized that when I grow older, I can always go back to school. However, an older me may not be as good at sports, so I chose this first.”

Adiwang represented his country but his time on the international circuit did not bear any accolades.

He returned home empty-handed and realized he was a crossroads in his life.

“Before I went back to Baguio, we were asked if we were going to continue with wushu or move on to other things,” he says.

“It was a difficult time for me because I was still deciding if I should go back to school or continue with the national team. If I chose the latter, I would be based in Manila. I went back home first, and coincidentally, there was a mixed martial arts event. I then decided to pursue a professional career.”

He joined Tribal Torogi – then known as Baguio Top Team – where he taught and represented the gym in martial arts bouts.

He was later taken on as a coach at Muayfit Malaysia, where he found his hunger for competition again.

Learning And Evolving

In Malaysia, Adiwang expanded on his striking accomplishments by winning a gold medal in a BJJ tournament in Johor, and a silver medal at the Copa Da Malasia.

Despite his experience and achievements, Adiwang understood life in martial arts is a continuous learning process, and he was encouraged to branch out to further develop his skill set.

“While I was teaching in Muayfit, my students competed in different competitions. I could see that there were things they couldn’t learn from us coaches” he says.

“They pushed me to go back to competing, and asked me to pick out international gyms where I could learn more.”

After careful consideration, and with the financial support of his students, Adiwang went to AKA Thailand to hone his abilities for the next year and a half.

He became a part of the facility’s competitive squad and was also offered the chance to join its coaching staff, but his long-term goal was set – his focus was on a career as a professional mixed martial artist. 

“I tried teaching and competing at the same time before, and it was difficult to focus,” he explains.

“So I decided to choose just one, and now that I’m competing, I was focused on training and learning.”

Coming Home

After his quest for athletic evolution took him around Asia, Adiwang returned home to visit his old friends at Team Lakay, who opened up the opportunity to try out for OWS.

“My roots are from Team Lakay,” he explains.

“Before I went to wushu, I had basic wushu training with them because they’re the best and are considered the roots of wushu in our province.”

“Around December [2017], Sir Rich [Franklin] had a tryout here in Manila. I went back home to the Philippines in November and visited Team Lakay.

“They told me that there was a tryout happening, so I prepared and went into it. There were a lot of us, so I wasn’t noticed at first, but they reserved our names. When they returned this August, I tried out again and thankfully, I was chosen.”

The strawweight standout was booked to compete at the third OWS event in October, and he made an immediate impression when he hit one of the knockouts of the night against Phuket Top Team’s Manuel “Tick” Huerta to improve his professional record to 7-2.

Training at his famous gym with its four World Champions, Adiwang will only get better. There is no doubt he will be one of the contenders to watch out for in the OWS next year. 

If he continues to progress and shine when he is given the opportunity, he could make it onto the main ONE roster before long.