Lito Adiwang’s Bumpy Road To Becoming Team Lakay’s Next Big Thing

Ever since making his ONE Championship debut in 2019, Lito “Thunder Kid” Adiwang has emerged as a face of Team Lakay’s new generation.

Together with reigning ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua “The Passion” Pacio and #2-ranked flyweight Danny “The King” Kingad, Adiwang has helped carry the Baguio City-based stable forward, following in the footsteps of Eduard “Landslide” Folayang, Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon, and others.

But it wasn’t easy for “Thunder Kid” to reach this point of stardom and stability. In fact, he landed with four different gyms across three different countries before finally settling down with Team Lakay – a squad where he can truly realize his vast potential.

Humble Beginnings

Filipino MMA star Lito Adiwang enters the Arena

Unlike many of his elite teammates, Adiwang wasn’t brought in by Team Lakay through a scholarship during college.

“Thunder Kid” did aspire to train wushu with the team when he was a kid, but he didn’t have the necessary means to enroll.

“Ever since I was in grade school, I wanted to join combat sports. Being in Baguio, of course, I wanted to try wushu and join Team Lakay. But with every gym, there’s a certain fee and, at that time, I couldn’t afford it,” Adiwang says.

Determined to jump-start his career in martial arts, Adiwang shifted his focus to another discipline that was prevalent in the Philippines – boxing. It was a journey that stemmed from an unexpected source and a spiritual conversation.

“My first discipline as a kid was boxing. I started with ABAP (The Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines). One of the coaches there was preaching about religion, and that’s where we kicked it off,” Adiwang shares.

“We started talking, and then he mentioned he’s a coach, and that’s when he recruited me.”

Despite beginning with boxing, there was no denying Adiwang from what he truly wanted to do. While honing his hands with ABAP, the young Filipino’s natural talent was evident, and he was eventually recruited to represent the country in wushu at the Asian Games.

“Around 2009, that’s when I started training wushu and, eventually, I made the national team,” the 28-year-old says.

Adiwang knew that the exposure he got from the Asian Games was just the beginning – and true enough, he soon found himself competing as a professional in mixed martial arts for a different Baguio team.

“After representing the [Philippine national] team in the Asian Games, I went back to Baguio, and Tribal Submission recruited me,” he says.

“I became their ‘player-coach,’ and that’s when I debuted in mixed martial arts back in URCC (Universal Reality Combat Championship). That was in 2012.”

A Hunger To Compete

Filipino MMA fighter Lito Adiwang throws a spinning back kick at Hiroba Minowa

Despite the opportunity to turn pro, Adiwang soon realized the hardships that most unheralded athletes in the Philippines experience. Matches were few and far between, and it became more difficult to manage his finances.

Amid those struggles, “Thunder Kid” moved to Malaysia to coach at MuayFit, where he earned more money than he was making as a “player-coach” back home.

“Eventually, I got the opportunity to work abroad through different connections. Someone referred me to MuayFit, and I grabbed the opportunity there,” Adiwang says.

The Filipino had also planned to compete in his new country, but that didn’t come to fruition. While he was grateful for the chance to join MuayFit, he was also sacrificing his potential as a professional fighter.

“Our initial deal was for me to go there and teach while also training to compete as well,” Adiwang says. “Unfortunately, I got stuck coaching.”

The hunger for competition never waned, though. Each time Adiwang taught his students, he was also frustrated, knowing that he could still compete and had much to learn himself.

“After three years of teaching, I began thinking that I needed to go back to my real calling – becoming an athlete,” he says. “I realized that I was wasting a lot of opportunities.”

Reaping What He Sowed

Adiwang knew it was time to change course, and that decision became easier when he found someone who truly believed in him.

That person was a student named Yoh Fong, who knew the Filipino had the talent to go places with the right focus and preparation.

Fong pushed Adiwang to follow his dreams, and she even offered to send “Thunder Kid” to Thailand to train and focus on being a professional fighter.

“She went to the gym, and she asked me if I wanted to fly to Thailand so I can see my options,” Adiwang shares.

“That’s where I saw my options laid out on the table – ‘Am I happy with just teaching or will I grab the opportunity to focus on training and being an athlete?’”

Adiwang chose the latter and flew to “The Land Of Smiles” to work with AKA Thailand. He was once again a student of the game, and he began an impressive winning streak.

“She made me choose what gym I wanted to join, so we went around Thailand to decide,” he says.

“Then I joined AKA Thailand because I saw the activity in the gym, there were so many people my size to work with, and I realized that I would have good training there.”

Making The Leap To Team Lakay

Mark Sangiao coaches Lito Adiwang during his MMA fight

After making a successful return to mixed martial arts, Adiwang was ready to return home and train in the Philippines. Waiting for him was his previous team – now called Tribal Torogi – and they had big plans for the reunion.

However, Adiwang was conflicted. Before leaving Malaysia, he encountered Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao, who was cornering Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly during an event in the country.

Sangiao extended his invitation for Adiwang to join Lakay – the team that “Thunder Kid” had always wanted to be part of. It was simply an opportunity that he could not pass up.

“I talked to my coach at Tribal. He had asked me to run the gym when I got back, so before I got accepted by coach Mark, he wanted me to clear that up,” Adiwang shares.

“Honestly, of course, [Tribal] were disappointed and I understand where they were coming from because they had a lot of plans for me. However, I saw an opportunity for myself to grow as an athlete, and I realized that I have to help myself first before helping others. I hope they understood that.”

The Right Call

The decision certainly worked out for Adiwang, as he soon found himself competing in ONE Warrior Series, where he made a name for himself as one of the most exciting prospects in the organization.

He strung together three impressive wins in OWS, which led to a contract and a spot on ONE Championship’s main roster, where he has continued to shine brightly.

So far, Adiwang is 3-1 on the global stage, with all of his wins coming from spectacular finishes.

Next, he will introduce himself to an even wider audience when he takes on the debuting Jarred “The Monkey God” Brooks at “ONE on TNT II” on 14 April during U.S. prime time.

“I feel really happy and content with my decision. After two or three years, I am here right now,” Adiwang says.

“Looking back at my decision, I base it on the results and I think I didn’t make a wrong decision here. I’m very happy to jump over and join them, and I’m fortunate and blessed to learn under coach Mark.”

Adiwang’s path was far from ideal, and it was definitely far from easy. Given all the sacrifices that he had to make, and all the things that he left behind, it’s a journey that not many people can successfully traverse.

However, “Thunder Kid” knows he wouldn’t be the man that he is right now if he didn’t go through all of those experiences.

“I’m delighted. It made me realize that everything happens for a reason and everything comes at the right time,” he says. “I’m very happy that I didn’t rush things. I gained a lot of experience and learned a lot of things.”

Read more: Rich Franklin: U.S. Fans Will Be Hooked By ‘ONE On TNT’ Series

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