Mark Sangiao has become one of the most recognizable figures in the Philippines’ martial arts scene.
The Baguio City, Philippines native officially founded Team Lakay in 2006, and has since guided his group of warriors to national and international prestige. Most notably, he coached Honorio “The Rock” Banario to the inaugural ONE Featherweight World Championship in February 2013, and Eduard “Landslide” Folayang to the ONE Lightweight World Championship in November 2016.
While Team Lakay entered 2017 with a string of victories, the team experienced some difficult losses to close out the year. The camp’s athletes, known for their elite wushu, fell in important battles, and had their weaknesses exposed.
Undeterred, Sangiao is strengthening those weaknesses, and promises that Team Lakay will return to its rightful glory.
They have a chance to kick off 2018 on solid footing, as four members of the squad — Joshua Pacio, Edward Kelly, April Osenio, and ONE Interim Flyweight World Title challenger Geje Eustaquio — will compete at ONE: GLOBAL SUPERHEROES on Friday, 26 January, in Manila.
We sit down with the famed coach, as he explains more about how Team Lakay’s recent setbacks ultimately made the camp stronger.
ONE: In recent years, Team Lakay has emerged as one of the top martial arts gyms in Asia. Could you talk a little bit about Team Lakay’s growth?
Mark Sangiao: The last six years has been phenomenal for Team Lakay in terms of growth and experience. Our team and all of our athletes have been constantly growing and improving their skills — not only nationally, but also regionally in Asia.
ONE Championship, from the very beginning, has been instrumental in our growth, constantly providing us with opportunities to demonstrate our potential on the world stage.
Currently, we are the premier martial arts team in the Philippines, and internationally we have built a reputation of having some of the fiercest and most-talented athletes in the game. Team Lakay has consistently produced world-class talents and champions, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
ONE: Everyone at Team Lakay seems to have a deep bond, like a family. How did you achieve that?
MS: Team Lakay started from very humble beginnings, when a few of us close friends wanted to build a top-notch martial arts team in the Philippines to compete on the global stage. We do not treat each other as teammates, but more as brothers and sisters.
This is the root of our team, the foundation for which it is built upon. We remain grounded with strong friendship, respect, and most of all, humility. This is the reason why our team has flourished for so long, and we will continue to give fans our excellence.
Of course, we have our individual differences from time to time, but everything is handled with respect and channeled positively. There is a level of competition within the team also, but it is a healthy kind of friendly competition. It is never personal. We all just constantly push each other, because we want everyone to be successful.
ONE: Although Team Lakay was very successful in 2016, last year saw mixed results. There were plenty of victories, but a few high-profile defeats.
MS: Of course, victory and defeat both come with the territory of being a martial artist. Losing is a big part of this sport. I would be a hypocrite if I said I was fine with the losses. But let’s be real, and say that these losses have served as opportunities for us to re-examine the areas of our skills that we have to improve on.
Losing is the greatest teacher, and sometimes in victory, you cannot see your faults. The losses helped our athletes re-evaluate their abilities, their weaknesses, and how we can become better.
ONE: Perhaps the toughest loss was when Martin Nguyen defeated Eduard Folayang for the ONE Lightweight World Championship in November. How has Eduard, and the team, coped with that loss?
MS: Eduard Folayang losing the ONE Lightweight World Championship to Martin Nguyen was completely heartbreaking and devastating. Needless to say, we were all disappointed at the outcome, especially Eduard. But we continued to support each other and looked at the positives.
Back in our hotel room, we had a heart-to-heart talk within the team. There was no negativity and no excuses, only flooding support. That helped us get through those difficult times, and now, Eduard is more motivated than ever to get his belt back.
ONE: Also in November, on the same card, Danny Kingad lost to ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes.
MS: People might see Danny Kingad as just another victim of Adriano Moraes, as an inferior martial artist. But in a real sense, Danny did not really lose. Moraes is a proven world champion and a seasoned veteran who is considered one of the top martial arts talents in the entire world.
Danny, at his age, was actually very lucky to be able to challenge Moraes for the title. He is still young and he has his whole career ahead of him. The experience against Moraes only helped him to become better. Expect a much better Danny Kingad when he comes back.
ONE: Joshua Pacio has had an eventful year, too. But he returns this weekend to co-main event ONE: GLOBAL SUPERHEROES against China’s Lan Ming Qiang. What do you see in Pacio’s future?
MS: Honestly, as his coach, I see a bright future ahead for Joshua Pacio. He has shown incredible discipline, a positive attitude, and a dedication to training. I will not be surprised if Joshua will one day be a world champion, sometime very soon.
His bout against Hayato Suzuki was a bit premature, yes, but this is not an excuse by any means. I think with more experience, a rematch between the two would produce a different result.
ONE: Finally, what do you believe will make Team Lakay better, overall?
MS: Obviously, our forte is wushu and kickboxing, but it does not mean we only focus on those aspects in training. We know for a fact that, to be complete in this game, we have to be complete martial artists with wrestling and grappling skills. We are doing our best to improve in this regard.
We hear all the comments, that Team Lakay is lacking in ground skills. That is why we have placed extra focus on refining this aspect of our game. Nationally, in no-gi, Team Lakay always dominates grappling competitions.
We have our own Team Lakay Grappler’s Cup, that we came up with so martial artists have a training ground to gain grappling experience without having to go abroad. The next one is already our 30th event.
Every match our athletes participate in is tough. Nothing is ever easy, and there is no contest we did not give our best effort, win or lose. We remain committed to finding more avenues to improve our grappling. Just give us a little more time, and we will prove to the world that our Team Lakay athletes can compete with the best in the world in grappling.