Whenever the words “Team Lakay” are mentioned, Cordillera’s excellence in mixed martial arts always come to mind.
This team put our region on notice to the different MMA artists of Asia when the fighters of this stable, mostly from the Cordilleras, performed in the different promotions, especially in the now well-known and respected ONE Championship, and achieved success.
Herald Express caught up with the brainchild of this organization, Coach Marquez “Mark” Sangiao, for a chat about him and Team Lakay:
Herald Express: We know you were a decorated wushu athlete before. How were you introduced to this sport?
Mark Sangiao: I started in kickboxing and taekwondo. Later, in one of the kickboxing tournaments I contended in, Mr. Mike Humiding, [then] CAR Wushu Coach saw my potential and invited me to train with them, [who were under the guidance of then] CAR Wushu president Mr. Tony Candelaria.
HE: Did you like the sport at first?
MS: Yes, merely because it was a combination of wrestling-takedown and kickboxing. They were my thing.
HE: What would you consider as the most memorable achievement as an athlete? How about as a coach?
MS: [The] 2001 Sea Games was the moment that stuck in my mind. It was my first time to compete internationally, in Penang, Malaysia. Plus, I bagged a gold. The best moment of my time as a coach was when our athletes started to gain World Championship belts in world-wide bouts, like Crisanto Pitpitunge, Honorio Banario, Eduard Folayang, Stephen Loman and, recently, Geje Eustaquio. I consider their achievements as mine too.
HE: How about MMA fighting style, how were you introduced to it?
MS: This was a fate I have never planned. One day in 2003, one of my friends, Rolly, just ask a couple of us to head to Manila for a URCC try out the next day. With zero preparation and no idea at all of what could turn out, we just went. Viola, I TKOed my opponent, who was a seasoned fighter. This was where my journey as an MMA fighter started.
HE: Who would you consider as your influences in pursuing a career in the fight business, as an athlete then and as a coach now?
MS: We all know Bruce Lee, of course. And I was a huge fan [of him]. Then [there was the World Wrestling Entertainment, then] WWF. These were what I had when I was growing up that mold me as a fighter, in a way.
After I bagged that gold at the Sea Games, I decided to restart my academics, which means I needed to leave the Philippine Team. I continued my Crimonolgy Course in BCF [now UC] and at the same time, I handled the University Wushu Team as a coach. By the time I completed my course and decided to restart my career as an athlete under Wushu National Team, they have closed their door for me. Back then, I could not understand why they did that but as I put the pieces of the puzzle now, maybe because they thought I better off as a coach since I produced many stellar wushu athletes at the university like Mark Eddiva, Benjie Rivera, Jayson Domingo, to name a few. Well, the closed door led me to find other venture – and that was MMA. [Moreover, there is also] passion to add to that.
HE: How do you officially call Team Lakay? Among our searches about the gym resulted to “Team Lakay Wushu”.
MS: Supposedly, it was Lakay Wushu Team. But, we also have [developments and incidents] in the scene, which is not worth discussing now. So, we dropped “Wushu” and [rechristened it] Lakay MMA Tap Team as the official name.
HE: What inspired you to establish the Team Lakay Stable?
MS: It goes down to passion – only passion. I still remember the early days when I had to walk from La Trinidad to Baguio (around 5 to 6 kilometers, ed.) to give trainings. I walked because I had no money for my jeepney fare but it I didn’t complain, I didn’t mind. It’s all about my love for sports.
HE: Team Lakay, when mentioned, in now often associated with MMA. Was this your original intention with Team Lakay, putting it into the MMA universe?
MS: We initially geared toward Wushu and MMA – merely for training and self-development. Little did we know that we would be diving into professional MMA. Things started to change around 2010 when we started to compete overseas. I guess when you just enjoy what you’re doing then rewards and good opportunities tail after.
HE: Team Lakay is one of the dominant forces in the ONE Championship. Can you see your team sustaining this stature with the continuous entry on new faces in the promotion?
MS: As we are all aware of and as we can all see, Team Lakay fighters are among the elite fighters in ONE. Thus, the more we are driven to continuously hold our high rankings. We begun as not-so-skilled athletes but eventually, we reached this stature because of our constant back-breaking training and strong will. Our position now doesn’t mean we will stop learning. No, it means the more we need to learn much, much more.
HE: How do you see Team Lakay in the next five to ten years?
MS: We are hoping that by that time, Team Lakay Camps are well-spread nationwide, producing humble, respectful and excellent athletes who are competing in different parts of the world and are ready to give back to each of their people and community, to the nation as a whole.
HE: What are the chances of your team consistently sending fighters to what many consider as the ultimate MMA fighting promotion, the UFC?
MS: We already did before – we had Mark Eddiva, Dave Galera and Roldan Sangcha-an. Actually, two of them got Fights of the Night. UFC and ONE are two different promotions with totally different culture. People may say that UFC is the ultimate ground for MMA fighters but now, I can’t say it is – for many reasons. The core culture and principle of MMA started in Asia, this embodies humility, respect, discipline and values. These, we see in ONE. ONE is huge in its own right and we are happy and proud to belong to this promotion.
HE: We noticed Lakay fighters generate crowd excitement using striking as the primary weapon. Lakay fighters generally used to live and die with striking in the past. Now they seem to become more aware of the grappling and ground game and employing them more often during matches. Are you abandoning the striking stance as their main bread and butter?
MS: We never abandon, we add. This is MMA so it means we have to be complete in all aspect. We should not leave holes for our opponents to strike us at down. We have to have the complete weapon – what would pay off in different situations is the game plan.
HE: Among the young fighters training in your gym, can you name at least three of them who you think can eventually become international champions and join the elite casts of fighters in the world?
MS: We have Danny Kingad, Joshua Pacio and Lito Adiwang.
HE: Who could be next in line to join Geje Eustaquio, Stephen Loman as title holders? We know Kevin Belingon is getting his chance in a short while. Anybody else in line for a title shot in any promotion?
MS: As you mentioned, we have Kevin Belingon as of now. Let’s see.
HE: We observe that Team Lakay fighters are well-bonded, like they’re brothers. We wonder what would you do if ONE Championship pits two of your fighters for a title shot? Are you going to let them face each other?
MS: If that happens, I would be the third person to decide. It will be a talk between the two. MMA is like any other sport, it’s a competition where the best among the bests stands. But [I would remind the fighters that a] sport is [just a] sport, it’s not [going to] war.
HE: What would you say to the thousands of Cordillerans who are fans of Team Lakay?
MS: I only have two words – “THANK YOU” for their unwavering support. We are playing for US!
Mark Sangiao is a pride of Cordillera, born in Kapangan, Benguet to parents Alipio Sangiao and Josie Tacio- Sangiao.
He is known as “The Machine” in the MMA world and has a respectable 7-2 record as a professional fighter, two of the victories came by knockout and four by submission.
He was part Philippine Wushu Team for the Southeast Asian Games in 2001 where he won a gold medal for the Philippines.
His greatest achievement, though, is guiding other fighters to international superstardom as a coach.
By: ARMANDO BOLISLIS
Photos and images from Mak Sangiao Facebook page, unless when indicated.