Team Lakay’s reign as the undisputed number one gym in Asian mixed martial arts was short-lived, but its coach believes its current crop of rising stars will help put it back on top.
At the end of 2018, the squad from Baguio City owned almost half the men’s mixed martial arts World Titles as Eduard “The Landslide” Folayang, Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon, Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio, and Joshua “The Passion” Pacio simultaneously held the lightweight, bantamweight, flyweight, and strawweight belts, respectively.
However, by the end of last March, every one of them was empty-handed after a series of heartbreaking defeats.
Fortunately, Team Lakay has built a reputation for emerging stronger after setbacks – whether through expert planning for rematches, recovering from a difficult spell, or responding to a devastating defeat.
Pacio continued that trend by getting over the disappointment of his defeat to Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta and preparing the perfect game plan for their second meeting to reclaim the gold with a stunning head kick.
Since then, he has gone from strength to strength with a pair of World Title defenses – one against a surging Filipino veteran and one against a former World Champion – to establish himself as the sole standard-bearer for his sport in his homeland.
His head coach, Mark Sangiao believes he can maintain that status for years to come.
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“You’ll see why he’s a really, really good champion,” he says.
“You know, there’s a reason why we call him “The Passion” because even if he’s coming off a fight, the next day, if he can, you’ll see him back at the gym training. He never stops working, he always finds ways to improve and fix his whole game and that’s what makes him stand out. That’s why he’s a World Champion.”
What makes Pacio stand out from his teammates that have held the gold is his age. At 24, he is significantly younger than those veterans who have been with The Home Of Martial Arts from the beginning.
While Sangiao believes they have the ability to win World Titles again, he expects Pacio could be at the forefront of the team’s success for the rest of the decade.
Like his friend, Kingad already has a wealth of experience at a high level despite his age. He may have come up short when he had his shot at the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix Championship against Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, but the gulf in experience between the two athletes was stark.
Plus, the competitive nature of his battle against arguably the sport’s greatest athlete hinted Kingad has what it takes to eventually succeed Johnson. Also, Sangiao’s praise for his young protégé suggests there may be no competitor on the ONE roster with as much raw potential.
“On Danny’s part, what makes him really stand out is his explosiveness and power,” he explains.
“You can really see how strong he is, and it comes naturally. We call it Igorot power over here. You can see he has a ready-made body for this. He has always been built for this. His speed and power come naturally and you can see it in his explosiveness and the way he moves around the Circle.”
As much as anything else, the brains behind Team Lakay’s success says what makes him most confident about his two young guns is their character. That should drive them – and their teammates – forward and help to create a new chapter in the gym’s history.
“I think this can apply to both – their attitude, discipline, and humility,” Sangiao adds.
“You know, even though Joshua is a champion already and Danny has made it big on the international stage, they’ve never changed since day one. They remain good kids, they remain humble and respectful to the people around them, and they remain very disciplined.
“They treat each other as brothers in the gym. You know when they work with each other, there’s no such thing as a winner or a loser, there’s no such thing as Joshua the World Champion or a star. When they train, they train one and the same and you don’t see any angst between them.
“You look at these young guys, I think one thing they have in common is their passion. You can see that they are really passionate about what they are doing, they’re not just doing it for the heck of it, they’re doing it because they love it.”