Undisputed: Team Lakay Showed Us They’re the Best Team in Asia

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Team Lakay Now has Three ONE World Champions in Their Roster

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One night after Team Lakay bagged four awards in ONE Championship’s Global Martial Arts Awards, Kevin Belingon outworked Bibiano Fernandes to become the new undisputed ONE bantamweight world champion. Winning by split decision, he joins Lakay teammates Geje Eustaquio and Joshua Pacio to hold three belts in Asia’s largest mixed martial arts organization. And, two weeks from now, Eduard Folayang has the opportunity to reclaim his belt and make it four out of the 11 available belts strapped around a Lakay’s waist.

ONE Championship was Damn Right in Giving Mark Sangiao Coach of the Year

The main event at ONE: Heart of a Lion was nothing short of a Fight of the Year candidate. Bibiano Fernandes came out to win, bringing the fight to Kevin Belingon with his trademark grappling, working to finish the fight with several submission attempts. On the other hand, as expected Belingon did his best work on the feet, punishing Fernandes with body kicks and combinations that left marks on the former bantamweight king’s face as the decision was read. Easily, Bibiano won Round 3, while Belingon took Round 5. The rest of the rounds, we could argue ’til kingdom come.

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Most people’s light bulb memory of Kevin Belingon was his flash knockout of David Aranda at ONE: Moment of Truth. Personally, Kevin Belingon’s loss to Masakatsu Ueda is the memory I always refer to pertaining to ‘The Silencer’. Sure, he lost that bout, but it was an excellent performance as he used all his available tools to keep the Japanese grappling stalwart at bay. My favorite was his strategy of timing a knee whenever Ueda would dive for a takedown.

(This is my opinion,) Belingon is the purest striker among the Lakay’s best fighters. Unlike Eduard Folayang and Joshua Pacio who are more balanced in their striking and grappling, Belingon was put on this earth to knock people out. And on the flip side, all of his losses are due to submission or against a superior grappler. To see him defend against Bibiano’s takedowns and submission attempts last November 9 was a thing of beauty!

This is where Coach Mark Sangiao’s brilliance shines. Unlike Jackson-Winkeljohn where good fighters go to become better ones, all fighters in Team Lakay started their MMA careers with Coach Mark. More importantly, through victories and defeats, these fighters stayed with Coach Mark. During the team’s rough patches when critics would generalize Team Lakay as having “zero ground game,” Coach Mark and the rest of the team shut up and went to work. More recently, with strings of victories coming by way of submissions (most notably Joshua Pacio’s ‘Passion Lock’, which won Submission of the Year at the Global Martial Arts Awards) and decisions facilitated by grappling defense, Team Lakay’s emerging Baguio Jiu Jitsu is testament that the team is not turning a blind eye to their weaknesses, learning from their mistakes, and continuously evolving as the years go by.

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Kevin Belingon’s performance last night is an exclamation mark on the many good things happening up North. More so, it points to an effective program that does not aim to change the fighters, but complements their strengths to become better martial artists. Belingon was still the same devastating striker we knew and loved – only with much better grappling defense. And that spelled the victory for him last night.

What’s Next?

Bibiano Fernandes is on social media expressing his dissatisfaction with the way he lost his belt. After dominating the division for so long, he had to give the belt up because of a split decision. I say, give the man an immediate rematch. Most recently, many of us cried foul when Demetrious Johnson lost his record-breaking championship streak to Henry Cejudo via split decision, Cejudo calling for a ‘superfight’ against TJ Dillashaw at 135, and the UFC seemingly agreeing by trading ‘Mighty Mouse’ for Ben Askren. Dillashaw vs. Cejudo has just been booked for UFC 233. ONE Championship chairman Chatri Sityodtong has been very clear in his vision of promoting a martial arts organization built on respect and discipline. Giving the long-time dominant champion who lost via a split decision an immediate rematch would turn Chatri’s words into action.

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Mighty Mouse’s arrival to ONE also demands an immediate title bout against Geje Eustaquio. Johnson is undoubtedly in the running for all-time pound-for-pound great. Any talk of a warm-up fight is plain stupid. In the strawweight division, I don’t care if the three champions Pacio, Naito, and Silva face each other again and again. These guys are so technical it’s always a pleasure to watch them fight. And in the lightweight division, I don’t want to jinx Folayang by talking about a scenario where he’s already won the belt. Much like Eduard, Amir Khan is a very well-rounded fighter with power in his hands. That said, what the fanbase is clamoring for is Alvarez vs. Aoki 3, whether as part of the planned Lightweight Grand Prix or a standalone event. However, Aoki has been promised the next title shot after dismantling perennial contender Ev Ting last October 6. So we might have to wait some time before this helluva match materializes.

Safe to say, even with a surge of blockbuster signings, Team Lakay will be dauntless in facing the challenge of world-class competition at ONE. Lakay, keep your head leveled in humility, your hearts pure with passion, and your arms raised in victory!

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John Hudson Go is the Editor-in-Chief of MMA Philippines

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