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Mark Sangiao is the founder of Team Lakay Wushu which has a burgeoning reputation in the MMA world and is home to many of the best fighters in the Philippines. He first started fighting back in 2003 and amassed a record of 5-2 but now his attention is now focused full time on training top Filipino fighters like Eduard Folayang, Honorio Banario and Kevin Belingon.
The Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) is the pinnacle of Filipino MMA and its champions can lay claim to being the best in the country at their respective weight class. Team Lakay Wushu is so dominant that it currently boasts an incredible four URCC champions amongst its ranks.
Folayang has the welterweight belt, Banario is the lightweight champ, the flyweight strap belongs to Belingon and another Lakay Wushu fighter, Roy Docyogen, holds the pinweight title. It's an impressive collection of silverware, particularly given how high the standard of MMA in the Philippines is becoming.
Lakay Wushu, which is based in the mountains in Baguio, came from humble beginnings. Sangiao started it in the days well before the UFC became a multibilion dollar business and MMA had impressed itself on the consciousness of the Filipino nation,
"I started Lakay Wushu legally in 2006 but it really started in 2004, only it was just called just Wushu then. I was training alone from 2003 to 2006 and watching youtube footage. I also joined a Judo team and I have a background in Wushu from before plus I did Jiu Jitsu training in Baguio."
This team of one has grown in the intervening years and now boasts almost 30 professional fighters who train together everyday. Some of them have jobs, some of them are still students but the likes of Belingon, Banario and Folayang are all full time fighters.
(from l-r) Eduard Folayang, Honorio Banario and Mark Sangiao at Colt 45 URCC XX
Folayang is starting to make headlines all over the world after following up three solid wins at Martial Combat last year with a very impressive performance against highly rated Korean A Sol Kwon in the main event at ONE Fighting Championship 1.
He has trained with Sangiao for an entire decade and his coach feels that it was only a matter of time before he made the breakthrough into the international mainstream,
"I first met Eduard when he started training kickboxing with me at 16 years old, then when I started training Wushu he changed to Wushu too. I am not surprised how successful he has been because I know how he trains and his attitude in training. Even if he is the first to arrive he will still be sprinting at the end of the session and that is reflected in his fights."
Folayang is extremely popular in the Philippines and his exploits fighting overseas have helped to raise the profile of Lakay Wushu. Sangiao feels that as well as being a fantastic fighter he is also a great ambassador for the sport because he consistently puts on exciting fights,
"His style is really entertaining for the fans but it makes me worried because when I saw his nose was broken in his last fight I started to worry that maybe the doctor would stop it. He really has the heart of a fighter, even if he has broken his hand or broken his nose or is covered in blood he will still persist and will never give up."
The win over Kwon was the most lucrative of Folayang's career because he walked away with a $5,000 fight of the night bonus which he is using to build a house in Baguio. Sangiao believes his other fighters are not far behind and it is a matter of when, not if, they make their mark on the international stage,
"Eduard is very famous now in the Philippines, when he walks down the street people recognize him. Maybe one year or two years from now I think Kevin, Honorio and Roy will also be famous. Kevin has a lot of potential and his career will be good. All the fighters have different styles, Kevin likes submissions, Roy likes to use his hands and powerful takedowns, Honorio like to use boxing but Eduard is complete."
Lakay Wushu recently signed up to the ONE Fighting Championship network meaning that its fighters will be able to fight for URCC, Dare Championnship, Road FC and Cage Fighting Championship as well as ONE FC itself. Sangiao was delighted to put pen to paper on this deal and thinks it will have huge benefits for all his fighters,
"I was really happy to sign this deal with ONE FC. I was amazed by how big the first event was and I was not expecting this because it was much much bigger than Martial Combat last year. I heard that the ONE FC network would be putting on 35 events in 2012 and I think this will give a lot of opportunity to our fighters so it is very good for Lakay Wushu."
Muay Thai tourism in nearby Thailand is huge but the Philippines has yet to attract many visitors looking to train martial arts. Sangiao is aiming to expand Lakay Wushu in order to allow tourists to come and train alongside his team of Filipino fighters,
"It will help our team and our gym to have more students coming and training with us. There are already a few tourists, they are always welcome and we are planning to set up a permanent camp up in the mountains in Baguio with accommodation so everyone can stay at the camp."
Sangiao teaches Jiu Jitsu and Wushu himself and employs additional coaches to help with boxing. He is also the tactician and masterminded Folayang's strategy for the fight with Kwon,
"He had a knee injury before that fight so we focused on his boxing skills. In his fights in Martial Combat he took his opponents down so we thought the Korean would focus on defending takedowns and we changed the plan. When we spar we always spar striking so we are more focused on striking."
There are some excellent grapplers in Baguio, including Eric Kelly who used to train with Lakay Wushu and has a 6-0 record with all six wins coming by way of first round submission. Sangiao does not know exactly where the ground fighting knowledge comes from, and no-one in Baguio seems to have ever been graded or have any idea as to the linage of the techniques they learn,
"None of us have belts in BJJ because we never do anything with the gi but when we compete we sometimes beat those who have belts. I don't think submissions is our weakness but we want to punish opponents, not submit them, that is our style of fighting."
Banario recently scored the first submission win of his career at URCC 20 and admitted afterwards that he had wanted to finish the fight in this way to show that Lakay Wushu fighters did have ability on the ground. Sangiao thinks that the URCC provides a fantastic platform for Filipino fighters and also helps give them the edge when they compete overseas,
"The URCC helps Filipino fighters a lot because there are the only promotions in the Philippines, there are others but they are not as stable. I also think fighting 10 minute rounds helps the fighters because they have more cardio and when they fight overseas they can easily fight five minutes because they are used to fighting 10."
For more information about Lakay Wushu visit: www.wix.com/lakaymma/online