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MANILA, Philippines – There is a plethora of moments and people to talk about in the landscape of Philippine MMA, especially with how eventful – and dramatic – the past 12 months have been.
But as the year ends, perhaps it’s fitting to give shine to the story of Lito “Thunder Kid” Adiwang, whose tale of resilience, perseverance, and eventual victorious return serves as the perfect example of how faith coupled with hard work, a bit of risk, and good timing pays off.
It was around Christmas in 2022, and Adiwang had a hopeful energy around him. Just months after his horrific ACL injury, he was finally set to return and open ONE Championship’s first major event of 2023, ONE Fight Night 6.
In hindsight, the return was certainly quick, especially since it was only nine months after he tore his knee against his compatriot Jeremy “The Jaguar” Miado.
But at that point, kicking and running felt normal again for the man called “Thunder Kid.” He was far removed from his days when he couldn’t even sit without feeling discomfort in his knee. It all felt good, until one unfortunate move in what should’ve been a normal day on the mats rained on his parade.
At that moment, Adiwang’s hopeful energy dissipated.
With his recovery stunted anew, Adiwang felt that time was winding down on his career.
“There were times when I thought of quitting, thinking if I’m still for this sport,” Adiwang said.
“It was tough moving, it was tough even stretching it. That’s when the negative thoughts started coming in, and I started questioning if this is still for me.”
Thankfully, results showed that his surgically repaired knee wasn’t torn again. It was merely strained, something that would heal over time with proper rest.
Time, as it always has, proved to be what Adiwang needed in the end. But getting to where he wanted to be, that still took a little bit more of the irreplaceable asset.
As Adiwang healed physically, little did he know that he would also get tested emotionally.
Though not a Team Lakay discovery, Adiwang had spent the last couple of years with the proud gym from Benguet, having shared a brotherly bond with the men and women forming the squad.
So imagine his surprise when he found out that some of the pillars of the squad in Eduard Folayang, Kevin Belingon, and Honorio Banario were all set to leave after nearly two decades. His good friend Joshua Pacio soon joined the rest of the team.
“It certainly wasn’t easy. We’re a team, we’re a family, we’ve done so much together,” Adiwang said in an earlier interview.
“I’ve always looked up to the ones who left and have always respected the team, but I understand why [Folayang and the others] had to make that move. As a fighter, it’s important to evolve, given that we’re in a game that evolves so much. We need new perspectives.”
Folayang’s bold move was the reminder that Adiwang needed – if he’s to make his comeback, he’s going to do it his own way, on his own time.
That’s when Adiwang decided to pack his bags and finish his recovery elsewhere, leaving Team Lakay to fly to Thailand and to train at various gyms in Phuket.
He knew that there he could start anew, focusing on recovering and staying away from whatever drama was left in the Philippines so that he could chase his dreams, the one that he’s spent decades building on.
“I thought to myself, this is what I do best. This is my career. My life. I didn’t finish my studies, I have no other businesses. All my life I’ve been building this career, so why give up now?” Adiwang said.
“So I kept chasing my dream. I kept working, recovering. Now let’s see how far I’ll end up, but I’ll fight for my dream and now I’m getting back.”
Confident in his knee and having found a place to settle down at HIIT Studio in Bali, Indonesia, it was now time for Adiwang to bid his comeback, and boy did he show up.
The 30-year-old needed only 23 seconds to announce his return to The Home of Martial Arts, knocking out tough Adrian Mattheis at ONE Friday Fights 34 in September.
But despite the victorious return, he knew that his comeback wasn’t complete yet.
The shadow of his loss versus Miado still loomed over him, so when a rematch was offered, Adiwang didn’t think twice – never mind the fact that it was set to happen just six weeks after his last fight.
This time, his eagerness didn’t backfire. He scored a hard-earned decision win over “The Jaguar,” finally putting his previous behind him.
“There really was no question about taking that fight,” Adiwang said.
“I really wanted to beat Miado and erase that bitter memory of the loss and that injury. I just knew I had to face him again.”
At the start of 2023, Adiwang wasn’t even sure if he was still going to pursue the sport that he’s devoted himself to for years.
But as the year comes to a close, the Baguio City native has two big comeback wins under his belt and is once again knocking on the door of the list of contenders in the loaded strawweight division.
Looking back, things could’ve gone worse if Adiwang didn’t strain his knee in early January and pushed through against Malachiev – a man notorious for attacking people’s legs with his takedowns.
That extended period of recovery time proved to be telling for his future.
“I wanted a comeback, and I got more than a comeback, I had a great one,” Adiwang said.
“So I’m grateful that I was able to deliver. It just wasn’t one fight, I came back and finished a quick one and had a quick turnaround to get another win and prove that I’m back in the game.”
That injury may have taken a year and half of Adiwang’s time in the circle, but it only proved that people who don’t take shortcuts will always be rewarded.
He promises to bring the same, if not more, fire next year as he looks to complete one of the most awe-inspiring comebacks in all of mixed martial arts.
Will he actually get there? Only time will tell.
“For 2024, I’m gonna give it my all. I’m moving to Bali. I’ve decided to stay there and really represent Soma [Fight Club]. I’ll be camping with them, I’ll be training with them. All my preparation will be with them.”
“I can’t promise a championship, but what I can promise is everytime I fight, I’ll be giving my all. Fans can also expect me to not just chase victories, but look to entertain as well.” – Rappler.com