LIKE every gym wading through uncertain waters, Team Lakay’s mettle truly was tested this 2021 as it continued to grapple through the global COVID-19 pandemic.
But resiliency has always been one of the standout qualities for the Igorot warriors and this courage to fight on allowed the famed Filipino stable to recalibrate and finally unveil what its future would look like in ONE Championship.
Still at the forefront of this youth revolution is the reigning ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua “The Passion” Pacio who finally made his return to the ONE Circle after 18 months of inactivity.
Hungry to show that the 56.7-kg class is still his realm, the 25-year-old fighter reminded everyone why it is him who sits on the throne as he silenced his rival Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta with an emphatic first round knockout to successfully defend his belt at ONE: REVOLUTION back in September.
Jeremy “The Juggernaut” Pacatiw also announced his arrival in the bantamweight division with a scintillating unanimous decision conquest over “The Ghost” Chen Rui at ONE: BATTLEGROUND last July to leave a lasting impression for fans.
And just before the year ended, what’s next became what’s now for Team Lakay with bantamweights Stephen “The Sniper” Loman and Jhanlo Mark “The Machine” Sangiao making strong impressions in their respective debuts at ONE: WINTER WARRIORS II in December.
Loman, a proud champion in his past stops, wasted little time proving that he belongs among his weight class’ heavy hitters and stunned erstwhile no. 3-ranked Yusup “Maestro” Saadulaev with his electric striking and delivered a killer left hook that floored the Russian late in the first round.
Sangiao, meanwhile, displayed what was touted to be the new generation of Team Lakay as he made quick work of Paul “The Great King” Lumihi with his impeccable grappling to secure the first round submission win with his rear naked choke.
But it’s not just the four, with the other Team Lakay stalwarts also making names for themselves in ONE.
Lito “Thunder Kid” Adiwang continued to show that he’s one of the fastest rising stars in the promotion, first knocking out Namiki Kawahara with a killer left hook in round two of their bout at ONE: UNBREAKABLE in January, and a methodical unanimous decision win over “Wolf of the Grasslands” Hexigetu at ONE: REVOLUTION.
Unfortunately, his rise was stalled in his first main event billing as he submitted to an arm triangle choke in the second round of his match against Jarred “The Monkey God” Brooks at ONE: NEXTGEN III in November.
Jenelyn Olsim also displayed her might, tapping Maira Mazar with a guillotine choke at ONE: FISTS OF FURY III in March before moving to the loaded women’s atomweight division.
But not even the shift could stop her star, clobbering Bi “Killer Bee” Nguyen at ONE: BATTLEGROUND III for the unanimous decision win before stepping up in the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix as a replacement for Itsuki “Android 18” Hirata.
Unfortunately, Olsim got outwrestled by Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat in their semifinal showdown, losing via unanimous decision in their match at ONE: NEXTGEN.
Their standout showings made up for the subpar performance from the veterans who drew the short end of the stick one time too many this year.
The skid continued for former ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang who had to deal with last minute changes before taking on his rival Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki for the third time at ONE ON TNT IV, one which he lost via a first round submission. He also lost via unanimous decision to Zhang “The Warrior” Lipeng at ONE: BATTLEGROUND II as the legend has now lost four straight matches.
It’s the same fate for former ONE Bantamweight World Champion Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon, who was surprised with a devastating liver shot to take the technical knockout loss to “Pretty Boy” Kwon Won Il at ONE: WINTER WARRIORS II to spoil his return to the ONE Circle.
Even ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix runner-up Danny “The King” Kingad fell in his comeback, losing via unanimous decision to former ONE Flyweight World Champion Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov in the main event of the aforementioned card.
Of the veterans who fought this year, it was only Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly who got his hands raised as he outlasted Ahmed “The Prince” Faress via split decision at ONE: FULL BLAST back in May.
Tough as those defeats were, Team Lakay can still consider itself as winners especially after some of its fighters survived their respective battles against the dreaded virus early this year.
And with the future now in full bloom, the vaunted gym of coach Mark Sangiao can only look at the bright side as they aim to get back to their position as the best stable in ONE Championship come 2022.