2018 will be remembered as the most successful year yet of Baguio City’s Team Lakay.
Widely associated with the local mixed martial arts scene in the Philippines due to the number of notable homegrown talents that it has produced since its humble beginnings in 2003, Team Lakay has reached new heights in 2018 as it now holds four world titles under the ONE Championship banner.
Since the beginning of the year, the legendary camp from the mountains of Baguio City has been on an extraordinary run in the organization.
Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio started the year for Team Lakay by winning the ONE Interim Flyweight World Championship with a unanimous decision victory over Kazakhstan’s Kairat Akhmetov in a rematch this past January.
Eustaquio was crowned as the undisputed flyweight champion of the promotion five months later when he defeated Brazilian arch-nemesis Adriano Moraes in a world title unification bout.
It was followed by Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon, who had his first taste of gold last July when he dominated two-division titleholder Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen by way of unanimous decision for the ONE Interim Bantamweight World Championship.
Belingon became ONE Championship’s official bantamweight champion by defeating longtime division ruler Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes via split decision in their highly-anticipated title unification rematch last November.
Meanwhile, Joshua “The Passion” Pacio settled the score with Yoshitaka Naito in September, dethroning his Japanese rival by unanimous decision to bring home the ONE Strawweight World Championship.
Eduard Folayang joined Eustaquio, Belingon and Pacio in the cast of Team Lakay world titleholders, recapturing the ONE Lightweight World Championship by toppling Singapore’s Amir Khan this past November.
Speaking on behalf of his teammates, Folayang believes that Team Lakay coach Mark Sangiao played a pivotal role in their success.
“Coach Mark should have a belt,” the Filipino superstar insisted. “We are a good team because we have a brilliant and selfless coach who supports us all the way.”
At the peak of his professional career in 2010, Sangiao opted to hang up his gloves for good to focus on coaching Folayang and other martial artists of Team Lakay.
Although he had to make the ultimate sacrifice of calling it a career at the age of 30, Sangiao disclosed that there is not an inch of regret in his decision, especially after seeing what his athletes have become.
“When I see these belts, I know that my sacrifice was worth it. I feel that I’m also a champion,” the Team Lakay head coach stated. “I decided to retire eight years ago. I’m a positive guy, so I don’t regret my decision to retire. I’m very happy with it.”
Finishing their campaign with four world titles in ONE Championship, Sangiao acknowledges that 2018 is Team Lakay’s most successful year so far.
“It’s our biggest year. We won titles and received many awards this year. This is the result of our hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. These awards and titles are just the fruit of our hard labor,” he mentioned.
With the achievements that they are presently basking in, Sangiao conceded that not even in his wildest dream did he expect Team Lakay to be highly acclaimed in the sport or reach its present stature.
“When I started this group in 2003, I did not even think that it would get to this. All I thought at the time was that I liked what I was doing,” he remembered. “I am happy with the outcome of my passion.”
It appears that everything Team Lakay lays its hands on turns into gold, but for Sangiao, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s only the beginning. There is more to come. We look forward to defending our belts and prevailing as champions for a long time,” he said.
Sangiao may be looking to carry over Team Lakay’s success into 2019, but he knows that it will be easier said than done.
“We had an amazing run in 2018. With all of the titles that we won, we have a big target on our back. Tougher challenges await us next year. Like we always say, we will do our best,” he expressed.
Pacio, Eustaquio and Folayang are all booked to defend their respective world titles in the first quarter of 2019.
Team Lakay may have cemented its position as a global force in mixed martial arts in 2018, but Sangiao assured that the entire team is not resting on their laurels.
“This is definitely the best year for us, but of course, we will not stop. We have to keep on improving and defend those belts,” he ended.