FEATURE: 2016: The year Filipino fighters stood tall in ONE Championship

By Ingrid Maravilla

(Last of two parts)

Team Lakay’s 16-fight winning streak

Team Lakay has become an instantly recognizable name in the Philippine MMA scene because of the big number of successful homegrown talents that it has produced since its inception in 2003.

Headquartered at an elevation of 4,300 feet above sea level in the mountains of La Trinidad, Benguet, Team Lakay has been recognized as one of Asia’s elite MMA groups, spawning remarkable Filipino fighters such as Eduard Folayang and Honorio Banario. The team also includes members Geje Eustaquio, Kevin Belingon, Edward Kelly, Joshua Pacio, Danny Kingad and April Osenio.

In 2016, the Philippines’ premiere MMA stable embarked on an incredible winning streak, showcasing a magnificently-improved ground game to thwart several top opponents. Team Lakay piled 16-straight victories, including five wins by way of submission.

Team Lakay also accomplished a clean sweep at ONE: GLOBAL RIVALS this past April. The celebrated MMA group won five fights out of five with all of its representatives emerging victorious after impressive performances.

In addition, three members of the fabled Team Lakay accomplished a breakout year after coming off disappointing setbacks.

Banario, the former ONE Featherweight World Champion, broke his losing spell in 2016 and is currently riding high on a three-bout victory parade.

Meanwhile, Kelly attained a come-from-behind submission victory over Jordan Lucas in March and then picked up imposing knockout wins over Vincent Latoel and Sunoto.

Folayang authored an ultimate comeback story by edging high-profile counterparts Tetsuya Yamada and Adrian Pang to earn a date with Shinya Aoki for the ONE Lightweight World Championship in November.

Widely regarded as the face of Philippine MMA, Folayang capped off his year with a shocking triumph over Aoki.

Eustaquio started 2016 with a bang by scoring a one-punch knockout of Saiful Merican in January before furnishing with a lopsided decision victory over Gianni Subba last April.

Belingon might have stumbled in his meeting with ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano Fernandes in January, but he made up for it by outpointing Tajik standout Muin Gafurov this past October.

On the other hand, Osenio pulled off a major upset triumph in September by submitting Malaysian superstar Ann Osman with a first-round guillotine choke.

It has definitely been a banner year for the Philippines’ premier MMA team. According to Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao, numerous heartbreaking setbacks in previous years fueled their desire to get better.

Highlight-reel knockouts of Burn Soriano and Jimmy Yabo

Burn “The Hitman” Soriano is relatively new to the promotion, having just made his debut last April in a loss to Indonesian fighter Sunoto. In his second trip to the ONE Championship cage, Soriano made sure that he would leave a lasting impression.

Soriano notched a highlight-reel knockout triumph over Indonesian prospect Mario Satya Wirawan in their bantamweight encounter at ONE: TITLES & TITANS in August.

The 30-year-old Filipino standout finished the job in just 15 seconds by delivering a well-executed spinning backfist that instantly turned the lights out on Wirawan.

It was a great win for Soriano, and one that he would look back upon for years to come as part of his career highlights.

Aside from Soriano, Jimmy “The Silencer” Yabo likewise recorded a scintillating knockout victory against Pakistan’s Bashir Ahmad at ONE: TRIBE OF WARRIORS in February.

Yabo uncorked a solid right hook while moving backward that laid Ahmad out cold, adding a hammerfist on the ground for good measure.

Filipino prospects shined in 2016

The Philippine MMA scene has a promising future as 2016 witnessed the emergence of Team Lakay’s young guns Joshua Pacio and Danny Kingad.

Pacio had three fights under the ONE Championship banner in 2016, winning his first two assignments in impressive fashion. He made his successful ONE Championship debut in April by scoring a second-round technical knockout of compatriot Rabin Catalan before he submitted Thailand’s Kritsada Kongsrichai with a first-round rear-naked choke last August.

His two-fight winning streak inside the ONE Championship cage earned him a date with ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka Naito this past October.

Pacio was close to becoming the youngest Filipino fighter to claim a world title in MMA but made a crucial mistake in the bout, derailing his championship aspirations as Naito secured a rear-naked choke in the third round.

Pacio might have fallen short in the first world title fight of his budding career, but he managed to silence his critics. Even at a tender age of 20, he has already reached championship-caliber status.

Meanwhile, Kingad had his fair share of spectacular moments as part of ONE Championship’s exciting flyweight bracket.

In his first promotional appearance last April, he stopped Malaysian fighter Muhamad Haidar just a little over two minutes into the first round.

At ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION this December, Kingad mustered a huge victory by submitting veteran and compatriot Eugene Toquero with a first-round armbar.

Even with the influx of fledgling combatants from all corners of the archipelago, Pacio and Kingad will most likely to lead the way for the new breed of Filipino talents in ONE Championship.#