When most athletes say their entire life has revolved around martial arts, there’s usually a bit of exaggeration there – but in Jhanlo Sangiao’s case, the claim is quite literal.
The 18-year-old mixed martial artist, who recently signed with ONE Championship, is the son of Team Lakay’s famed head coach, Mark Sangiao. That means Jhanlo has spent his existence learning from dad and rubbing shoulders with the gym’s elite roster of talent.
The young Filipino is now entering ONE’s bantamweight division with a ton of hype, and he’s motivated to realize his vast potential on the global stage.
Since Day ONE
Jhanlo was born a year before Team Lakay was unofficially founded at the University of the Cordilleras, meaning he literally grew up with the team.
In fact, one of his earliest childhood memories is chasing around the Baguio City squad and trying to emulate their every move.
“Even when I was a baby, I think my parents would bring me to the gym as my father would teach. When I was 6 years old, I was already running around, joining my father’s students,” he says.
“I think I was pretty annoying when I was a kid, but that’s when I really started appreciating what they were doing. Being around athletes, you want to do what they do.”
That fascination eventually turned into a stronger interest for Jhanlo. He took a liking to the grind and began training with his dad and the students.
Not long after, he got his first taste of competition – and he loved it.
“Back then, it was just all fun and games for me. Just running around and sweating, not really taking it seriously,” Jhanlo says.
“But I felt that I truly had to be serious when my father brought me to my first competition. It was a local Muay Thai competition here in Baguio, I think I was 14 back then, and I won gold medals. That’s when I realized that I could do this for a long time.”
It was as if Mark had known it all along. He never had to convince Jhanlo to follow the road that he had taken, but by showing him the ropes early on, a passion was born.
And from Jhanlo’s end, actions also spoke louder than words.
“Actually, I didn’t even have to say anything to him,” the 18-year-old recalls. “I just showed up every day. I trained. I worked with men older than me and that was that.”
Following In The Footsteps Of Greatness
They say that greatness begets greatness, and it’s a saying that Jhanlo takes to heart.
As a teenager in the land of world-class athletes – including former World Champions Eduard “Landslide” Folayang, Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon, and Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio – the young martial artist always has to punch above his weight during training sessions.
But he recognizes that learning from those legends will only make him a stronger fighter, and he is determined not to waste the opportunity.
“It’s a big thing just working out with our established stars on a daily basis. That’s one of my motivations, just the fact that I am training with athletes who have become World Champions and have done a lot in the sport makes me believe that I can do it as well,” Jhanlo says.
“I am inspired just by being around them, and I am pushed to be better and better.”
It also helps that Mark never takes it easy on his son during sessions. Instead, their relationship takes on more of a mentor-student dynamic, similar to how the head coach treats his other students.
For Jhanlo, he wouldn’t want it any other way.
“When we start training, it’s like we’re not even relatives at all. It’s like I’m not his son and he’s not my father,” the teenager says with a smile.
“He treats me just like one of his students. I don’t even call him ‘papa’ in the gym. I call him ‘coach.'”
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With Great Powers Come Great Expectations
Having the access to World Champions and a father who trains them is certainly a luxury that Jhanlo has enjoyed in his development as a mixed martial artist. But with that luxury comes great expectations, and it’s something that Jhanlo has gotten used to over the years.
Even before the teen signed with the world’s largest martial arts organization, Filipino fans and the local media were high on the youngster and waiting for his move into the professional ranks.
And that hype isn’t isolated within the Philippines. None other than ONE Vice President and mixed martial arts legend Rich Franklin gushed over the 18-year-old’s advanced skills and called him “the standard for everything else following him.”
“There’s definitely pressure. You can’t deny that,” Jhanlo admits.
“You know, people will come to me and tell me, ‘I’ve been waiting for your debut,’ so in my mind, that’s a pressure in itself because people expect a lot from you and you have to be at your best all the time.”
At the same time, the talented fighter is focused on keeping his head down, working hard, and doing his best to meet the lofty expectations from others.
“I just keep on grinding. Training each day,” Jhanlo says. “Just getting myself ready both physically and mentally. That’s what my father always tells me, just be ready ’cause my time will come, and here we are.”
That’s also where it helps to have someone like Mark Sangiao firmly in your corner – both in the gym and at home. The family patriarch has always prepared his son for life in a world-class martial arts promotion, and that knowledge will ease Jhanlo’s difficult transition to ONE Championship.
“The moment I signed the contract, [my dad] told me, ‘This is it. This isn’t the amateurs anymore. You have to be ready, you have to be better. You’re on the big stage, so don’t act like an amateur anymore,’” the teen recalls.
“He also told me to build my personality, my character, and also told me to brush up on how I speak and how I socialize with people because that also plays a role in my development here.”
The Embodiment Of Team Lakay’s Next Generation
As Jhanlo grew up with Team Lakay, so did the team in terms of its experience and overall approach to mixed martial arts.
Gone are the days that focused primarily on striking. Instead, the coaches are making sure their athletes bring well-rounded skill sets into their bouts.
And if there’s someone who represents that development, it’s Jhanlo, who often took matches to the ground during his amateur career.
“In my previous competitions, mostly I finished people with my ground-and-pound and submissions,” he offers. “So I guess that’s what people can expect from me. That’s all I can say for now. It’s better if they see it for themselves.”
While other Team Lakay fans might be surprised with his approach – one that differs so much from his veteran stablemates – Jhanlo is proud to say that he is a byproduct of all the hard work, heartache, and triumph that his coaches and fellow fighters have experienced through the years.
“When they say Team Lakay, the first thing that comes to people’s minds is, ‘These guys are deadly strikers.’ But for me, I believe I’m a different breed,” he says.
“I’m a part of the new generation, a generation that needs to build new weapons each day.”
With that kind of mindset and an excellent upbringing, it’s safe to say that Jhanlo is ready for the bright lights of ONE Championship. And given his rapid development, the bantamweight division needs to be ready for him as well.
“There’s a lot of expectations on my end, given that it’s the big stage,” he offers. “Sure, there’s pressure, but I just have to be ready. I have to be prepared when the opportunity presents itself, and here we are.”
Read more: The Untold Story Of Team Lakay