It would be a farce to have a conversation about the flourishing Philippine mixed martial arts (MMA) scene and not have Team Lakay as top of mind. The La Trinidad, Benguet-based stable is, after all, where most of the successful Filipino athletes in the sport are from.
Under head coach Mark Sangiao, Team Lakay has grown into the country's premier MMA camp, producing seven world champions: Eduard Folayang, Kevin Belingon, Geje Eustaquio, Joshua Pacio, Honorio Banario, Stephen Loman, and Crisanto Pitpitunge. Apart from this, it also churns out top-tier contenders like Rey Docyogen, Danny Kingad, Edward Kelly, Gina Iniong, Mark Eddiva, Dave Galera, Roldan Sangcha-an, and April Osenio.
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What makes the squad’s record impressive is the fact that it has achieved so much working with so little. Its operational budget has been close to zero, the gym scrimps to make ends meet to cover costs, and the talent pool consists of just locals.
At one point in time, Team Lakay did not have access to training facilities similar to that of their stable contemporaries around the world. Instead, they used to work out on the top floor of a dilapidated building along an obscure street, within a packed room laden with nothing but sweat-soaked mats. But what its members lacked in resources, it made up for in the will to train harder and longer than any other athlete.
Sangiao could not help but look back on how far they have come since the team’s inception in 2003. After 16 years of hard work—which included tons of heartbreaks and frustrations—here they are, standing inside a spacious, modern gym in the La Trinidad village of Pico. “We will not stop here. If there are things that can be improved, we’ll improve," Sangiao says. "This facility, it’s not just for local or national events. This is for international, so we need to keep in step with the facilities."
The new facility houses better training equipment, a much bigger space for grappling drills, physical therapy and dry sauna rooms, and a full-size replica of ONE Championship’s circular cage that they have never had before.
“We need to feel the environment when we go out to compete. In the past, it was limited. We just had a cage fence to do our scrimmages, but now our athletes have the whole cage,” Sangiao proudly shares. “It’s one of the things that we improved here. It’s a big help for the athletes. Their training and the equipment aren’t limited, so I guess we won’t be lagging behind.”
The brand new gym will now serve as Team Lakay's base of operations. According to Sangiao, the planning of the structure began in January of this year, but construction did not start until April.
“We just planned it this year and four months ago, we started working on it. It opened on August 21 because it was a holiday,” Sangiao revealed. “It will be the new headquarters of Team Lakay. We’re all excited, but it got a bit delayed because of the bad weather.”
Sangiao has been busy lately. Besides keeping a close eye on the preparations of Belingon, Kingad, Banario, and Lito Adiwang for their respective bouts at ONE: Century in Tokyo, Japan on October 13, he also made a trip to Bangkok. “I bought gloves, pads, and equipment for our athletes. We also looked for possible sponsorship for the equipment of the boys. We’re fixing this so our athletes won’t have to worry about this in the future,” he explains.
Like Sangiao, Folayang is also elated to see the fruits of their labor come to life. “The Face Of Philippine MMA” knows how difficult it was back then as he remembers the days when they were grasping for support. “It’s a reminder that we’re doing things correctly, because if not, then we wouldn’t be here. These are the fruits of our sacrifices. This is where our effort goes,” Folayang says.
But make no mistake about it, this is just the first of many developments for Team Lakay, and Folayang is excited to see where they will wind up in the future.
“We’re still looking forward to better facilities," the fighter says. "But we’re very happy that we’re here now,”