For the first time in nearly three years, ONE Championship made its return to the Philippines last weekend, hosting unprecedented back-to-back fight cards to pay homage to the well-entrenched mixed martial arts (MMA) scene in the country.
For a good reason, the Southeast Asian nation has one of the most passionate fans in the region, especially when it comes to combat sports.
The country is home to some of the biggest stars in the fight industry, such as Manny Pacquiao in boxing and the famed Team Lakay stable in MMA.
So when ONE Championship was finally able to set up shop in the “Pearl of the Orient,” it was no surprise that the Singapore-based promotion had filled the cards with members of the most decorated team in the Philippines.
A total of seven members of Team Lakay saw action over the course of the two events that ONE Championship held over the weekend.
ONE Championship—and the Filipino fans by extension—would have loved nothing more than to see all seven of them with their hands raised in triumph.
However, that just would not be the case as of the seven fighters, only two emerged victorious.
What was notable is that the two winners—Jhanlo Sangiao and Jeremy Pacatiw—are two of the younger members of Team Lakay and two of the latest ones to come to ONE Championship.
Folayang and Eustaquio, two of the group’s most popular members, were world champions in the organization during their heydays
For the past few events, such has been the trend for Team Lakay.
With the young guns performing well and the seniors suffering from a bit of a decline, the discussion of a “passing of the torch” has certainly been unavoidable.
During the post-event scrum, Chatri Sityodtong—the chairman and CEO of ONE Championship—also touched on the situation, speaking on the losses of Folayang and Eustaquio.
“That’s life for all of us. Nobody beats ‘Father Time,’ and it does look like there’s a passing of the torch,” the company head honcho said. “I don’t think it’s [inactivity], I think it’s ‘Father Time’ who catches up with everybody. That’s not to say that I don’t think Eduard and Geje might have a few, one or two good years left of high-level competition, but they definitely have to adjust their style.”
Folayang and Eustaquio both lost by knockout.
“You can see that their chins are no longer what they used to be, and they’re getting hit by shots that they wouldn’t have, say five years ago, and that happens. Your reflexes are slightly slower, your counter-attacking is slightly off. You don’t see it, but I think fans can see it, right?,” Chatri later added.
Chatri reiterated his concern for the likes of Folayang and Eustaquio, as well as Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao, saying that they would have to discuss their plans moving forward.
“I’ll have to talk with Mark, I’ll have to talk with Geje, Eduard, and see. Obviously, I don’t want any of them to suffer any long-term consequences,” Chatri stated.
While Chatri wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about discussing the recent struggles of Team Lakay’s veterans, he was beaming when talking about the squad’s so-called “next generation.”
“When you look at Filipino MMA at the highest level, a guy like Jhanlo, a guy like Stephen Loman, these are killers, and if that’s the next generation, I’m telling you, the future of the Philippines is going to produce world champions once again, no doubt,” the Thai-Japanese executive declared.
It is quite the endorsement from Chatri himself.
Indeed, the future does look bright for the team’s young stars.
Jhanlo just turned 21, Pacatiw is 26 and Loman is 27, and yet they’ve already made names for themselves under the bright lights of ONE Championship.
Team Lakay also brings 27-year-old Danny Kingad and 26-year-old Joshua Pacio, already two of the outfit’s brightest young stars, into the conversation.
Kingad has been a perennial contender in the flyweight division, while Pacio is arguably the best strawweight that the promotion has ever seen despite relinquishing the world title to Jarred Brooks at ONE 164.
With this much young talent being mentored by some of the best fighters in the country, it’s hard to argue with Chatri that Filipino MMA fans will definitely have something to look forward to.
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