Filipino martial arts team Team Lakay is renowned as the nation’s top camp for martial artists, producing a host of top-drawer talent including ONE Flyweight Champion Geje Eustaquio, former ONE Lightweight Champion Eduard Folayang, and rising contenders Kevin Belingon, Danny Kingad and Joshua Pacio.
Folayang and Pacio are on the verge of securing title shots in their respective divisions, while Belingon has the opportunity to capture the ONE Interim Bantamweight World Title when he faces two-weight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen.
All three are set for action at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS in Manila, and Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao lifted the lid on preparations as the team looks to get their trio ready for action on Friday, July 27.
Much of the focus has been on Belingon’s bout with Nguyen, and Sangiao believes his charge will be better prepared for success than he was when he challenged Bibiano Fernandes for the ONE Bantamweight Title earlier in his career.
“Unlike a couple of years ago when Kevin first fought Bibiano Fernandes, the Kevin Belingon of today is fully equipped,” he says.
“He has all the skills necessary, both on the feet and on the ground.
“Since that loss to Bibiano, Kevin just put his head down and went back to work, covering any holes in his game. He worked twice as hard to get back to this point, and now that he is here, he is not letting it go to waste.
“A rematch with Bibiano is at stake here, and Kevin has had the Brazilian in his crosshairs since that fateful night in 2016.”
Sangiao knows Nguyen well, having prepared two Team Lakay athletes to face him in ONE Championship already in his coaching career. And the head coach says he has a huge amount of respect for the Vietnamese-Australian, but still believes Belingon has the skillset to defeat him and capture the gold.
“I salute Martin. It is no joke to win two titles in two different weight classes, let alone go for history and aim for a belt in a third weight class,” he says.
“This is going to be one of the greatest World Title fights in the history of ONE Championship.
“Martin will be trespassing in Kevin’s territory, however. We have been at this weight class for years, and I would never bet against Kevin as long as the playing field is fair, and the weight limit is reached. Martin is stepping into Kevin’s realm, and that is going to be the biggest difference.”
One area where Sangiao believes Belingon has the edge over Nguyen is his familiarity with the weight class. While “The Silencer” is a seasoned bantamweight campaigner, Nguyen has competed just once at the weight. That, Sangiao says, plays to Belingon’s advantage.
“Kevin is comfortable at this weight. He is strong, quick, and very explosive,” he says.
“We already have a blueprint for facing Martin, with the experience from [his bouts with] Eduard [Folayang] and Edward [Kelly]. We know what to expect, and we expect Martin to be a very intelligent fighter.
“There is not much room for error in this match, and given Martin’s powerful right hand, it could end in an instant. But we are prepared for all situations in there. It is going to come down to who can execute their game plan better.
“I would say Kevin’s biggest advantage will be his speed and relentlessness. It is one thing to see Kevin perform on TV, but it is completely different when you have to deal with that hand speed and power face-to-face.
“The reason Kevin is able to overwhelm so many of his opponents is because of his speed and power. It is a God-given natural talent that cannot be developed. You either have it, or you do not, and Kevin has it. He has used it to perfection over the last few fights.”
Sangiao is confident Belingon will prevail in Manila, and says the addition of another World Champion to the team would be a huge fillip for the Baguio City collective.
“Bringing home another belt will further cement our long-standing tradition of excellence,” he admitted.
“We are building World Champions. Like we always say, “Champions are not born, they are made.” Through the fires of hard work and dedication, we are able to forge the best fighters in the world.
“We have victories over [athletes from] the biggest martial arts powerhouses all over the world, including the United States, Russia, China, Australia, and Brazil. We have proven consistently that Filipinos belong in the discussion of some of the toughest fighters in the world.
“Adding another belt to our wall at Team Lakay does not mean we will stop there, however. We will always continue to build World Champions. It is our tradition.
“These belts are not here for us to sit on. They are here to keep us driven and not remain idle. Can I quote Spider-man? ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ – that is what these titles represent to us.”
Also in action in Manila is former ONE Lightweight World Champion Folayang, and Sangiao has no concerns over his senior team member’s preparations, as he’s been in this spot many times before.
“Eduard will always be Eduard. He is the hardest working guy around,” he states.
“The man has been through so much in his life. I have no doubts about his mental strength, and no questions whatsoever when it comes to his work ethic. His preparations always just come down to polishing and honing his skills.
“The talent will always be there, and we are happy to be here guiding him and providing whatever he needs, but the man is a machine. He will train harder than anyone else, and he is committed to excellence. That is the kind of work you can expect from Eduard day in and day out.
“With Team Lakay supporting him, victory is always within reach. And of course, his favourite sparring partner, Honorio Banario, will always be by his side.”
The third Team Lakay star set for action in Manila, Joshua Pacio, finds himself in a battle between two of the best young prospects in ONE Championship as he takes on Thai star Pongsiri Mitsatit. It is a bout that has Sangiao almost as excited as the fans heading into the event.
“Joshua and Pongsiri’s fight is what we call a “hunk’s showdown” – the two are like male models looking to be World Champions in mixed martial arts. I am sure it will be a very popular fight for the ladies,” he laughs.
“Joking aside, they have proven how good they are, even at their young age. They have incredible potential – just look at their track records. I believe whoever wins this match deserves the next [ONE Strawweight] World Title shot.
“This is a battle between two rising stars, and they are very evenly matched. Joshua has been preparing for this bout, and he is now at 100 percent. He cannot wait to get back in there and resume his ascent to the top of his division.”
With three top-drawer talents set to showcase their skills on the same show, Sangiao and Team Lakay have a huge weekend ahead of them. The big question now is how many of the Baguio City warriors will return home victorious?