FOUR former world champions belonging to the Cordillera-based mixed martial arts (MMA) sports team Team Lakay have parted ways with the storied gym in mid-March to strike out on their own.
The four departures from Team Lakay are two-time ONE Championship lightweight MMA world champion Eduard Folayang; former ONE strawweight MMA world champion Joshua Pacio; former ONE bantamweight MMA world champion and Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) flyweight world champion Kevin Belingon; and former ONE featherweight world champion Honorio Banario.
None of the four fighters have publicly disclosed what gyms or teams they will be joining yet, but all four are still set to continue fighting in ONE Championship. Pacio is currently set to train in the United States, while Folayang has claimed that he has received many offers from other gyms for training and will be training in New Mexico and California, but has yet to formally sign any contract.
Among the gyms that Pacio and Folayang are set to visit for training are Jackson Wink MMA in New Mexico, where Folayang trained prior to his 2018 title bout and win against Amir Khan.
Folayang, Banario and Belingon were core members of Team Lakay and part of its initial lineup. With their departure alongside Pacio, Team Lakay’s current roster of active ONE world champions has dwindled to only Geje Eustaqiao.
According to all four fighters and Team Lakay head coach, Mark Sangiao, the splits from Team Lakay have been amiable and due to the fighters’ desire for further growth rather than internal disputes and disagreements.
“I am saddened with their decision but for me as their manong, I am happy with what they have achieved. With their decision, there’s nothing I could do but to accept it because I know they really thought hard about it,” Sangiao said.
Folayang, the first to declare his departure from Team Lakay, said that his departure is purely to seek higher heights in fighting.
“Sometimes there are decisions that need to be made, especially if you still want the vision that you saw years back to be intact until now. So I think I don’t want to be stuck. I don’t want to waste the remaining active years of my career,” he said.
“I have very limited time in my fighting career. Two or three years, maximum three,” Folayang said.
Folayang’s departure from Team Lakay comes at the heels of a five-match loss streak, most recently against Edson Marques last December.
Pacio also cited the same reasons for his departure in his official statement, saying, “I believe that stepping out of my comfort zone is the way to level up my overall skills in the world of combat sports.”
Belingon and Banario also released similar statements clarifying that their decisions were purely due to the belief that they would see better improvements in their fighting skills outside of the Team Lakay stable.
Sangiao meanwhile expressed optimism about the future of Team Lakay despite the near-simultaneous departure of some of its best athletes.
“Team Lakay grew into what it is out of effort and passion despite not having the best resources, so what more now? I have 20 years’ worth of coaching experience under my belt, and I believe I have a lot more to give our athletes,” he said.
Originally published on Rappler as part of the Aries Rufo Fellowship.