Filipino star Honorio Banario is renowned as a former ONE Featherweight World Champion and one of the shining lights of Baguio City’s Team Lakay.
However, before he found fame inside the ONE Championship cage, Banario was actually a rival of the collective he’d eventually come to join.
With his career aim of becoming a police officer, Banario enrolled at the Cordillera Career Development College, where he studied criminology and joined the school’s newly-established amateur wushu team, where his skills in the ring meant his education came free via a scholarship.
“It was 100 percent free tuition,” Banario explained.
“My parents worked very hard to pay for tuition, so anything I could do to help, I wanted to do it. I knew their dream for us was to finish school, and earn a degree. Thankfully, I tried out, and got accepted.”
Banario’s ability in wushu soon saw him become one of the best athletes in the school, as he played a leading role in competitions against other schools, including the University Of The Cordilleras, home to Team Baguio’s head coach Mark Sangiao.
“Our school team was actually big rivals with Team Lakay back when we were young,” Banario explained.
“We would regularly compete in tournaments, and our teams would face each other multiple times.”
One moment that stands out in the Filipino’s memory is an early match with Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly in the final of an inter-school competition.
“He kicked my butt!” Banario laughed.
“I lost the match. We still joke around about it today. But my performance impressed coach Mark, and soon he would invite me to train with them in the summer.”
His performance in that defeat saw Banario eventually move to train with Sangiao, alongside his former rivals. Pitched in with some of the best young wushu talents in the nation, Banario shone, winning a host of regional and national titles, and was eventually selected to compete as part of Team Lakay’s international lineup.
Now, as one of the most experienced operators on the team, Banario is using his experience to pass down to the young prospects making their way up the ranks at Team Lakay.
He says he has an eternal debt to the man who gave him his chance at greatness.
“I will forever be grateful to coach Mark for believing in me,” Banario said.
“Because of martial arts, I was able to finish school and earn my degree. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.”
Banario will look to add another standout moment to his career when he takes on Australian contender Adrian Pang at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR on 20 April in Manila.
Victory will validate his claims as a top lightweight contender, and push him one step closer to a shot at the gold.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs throughout my career, but I am still here. I am still persevering. I am still giving it my all,” he said.
“Win or lose, I will give my best when I step into the ring.”