Pacio could be the next big PH MMA star, says Team Lakay coach

NEXT IN LINE? Joshua Pacio may be the next great product from Team Lakay.

Photo by Edward Hilvano IV

MANILA, Philippines – Team Lakay has become an instantly recognizable name in the Philippine mixed martial arts (MMA) scene because of the big number of successful homegrown talents it has produced since its inception in 2003.

Despite being located at an elevation of 4,300 feet above sea level in the mountains of La Trinidad, Benguet, Team Lakay has been recognized as one of Asia’s elite MMA groups, spawning remarkable Filipino fighters such as Eduard Folayang, Geje Eustaquio, Kevin Belingon, Honorio Banario, Rey Docyogen, Crisanto Pitpitunge, Mark Eddiva and Roldan Sangcha-an.

Team Lakay rose to prominence in the Universal Reality Combat Championship, where its 6 stalwarts were able to capture belts in different weight classes.

Pitpitunge carved his niche in Pacific Xtreme Combat by claiming the bantamweight belt in June 2012 when he knocked out Justin “The Shocker” Cruz with one punch in the first round, while Banario made history in February 2013 by becoming the inaugural ONE Championship featherweight titleholder with a fourth-round technical knockout against compatriot Eric Kelly.

Along with their other colleague Dave Galera, Eddiva and Sangcha-an joined the ranks of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Thirteen years later, Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao is still determined to continue his passion of breeding top-notch MMA competitors from the Philippines.

Even with the influx of young combatants from all corners of the archipelago, Sangiao’s formula of honing highly-decorated fighters remained consistent and resulted in a fresh batch of Team Lakay flag bearers.

But the one who stood out among the new breed of Igorot warriors was Joshua Pacio, a 20-year-old native of Baguio City.

“There is something special in Joshua. He’s young, but he is hardworking and willing to give his best,” Sangiao said about Pacio in an interview with Rappler.

Pacio is undefeated in his 7 professional matches and has yet to go the distance in his 3-year prizefighting career, finishing his opponents by either knockout or submission.

Plying his trade in minor MMA leagues such as Team Lakay Championship, Fullcon Fighting Championship and Spartacus, Pacio owns 4 submission victories and two knockout triumphs.

Due to his impressive run in small-scale MMA promotions, ONE Championship noticed Pacio and gave him a spot on the undercard of its “Global Rivals” event last April.

Pacio came out on top of his ONE Championship debut by scoring a second-round technical knockout of fellow Filipino Rabin Catalan.

Joshua Pacio def. Rabin Catalan via second-round stoppage. #ONEFightNight — NISSI ICASIANO (@Nissi_Icasiano) April 15, 2016

Sangiao sees a bright future ahead of Pacio, citing his dedication to his craft and tough mindset inside the MMA cage.

“Joshua always pushes himself to the limit. He knows that he has to do the grind in training to be successful in his fights. He is truly dedicated to what he does. Plus, he has this winning attitude, which is an essential requirement to a fighter who wants to become a champion,” he stated.

Team Lakay’s longtime mentor stressed that if Pacio plays his cards right, he could be the next big thing in the sport, following the footsteps of Folayang, who is widely regarded as the face of Philippine MMA.

“I honestly believe that Joshua could be the next big star of Philippine MMA. He has that potential. But of course, he should maintain his current work ethic to get into that position,” Sangiao shared.

Sangiao refused to compare Pacio and the likes of Danny Kingad and Stephen Loman with the first generation of Team Lakay stalwarts, asserting that their batch were born in a totally different era of MMA.

“It is unfair if you’re going to compare Joshua and his batch-mates with their predecessors. They’re from a different generation. In today’s MMA, versatility is the key to success. Meanwhile, it was discipline going up against another style in the past before the sport took a major turn that changed the landscape of MMA,” he pointed out.

For his next assignment, Pacio will have the opportunity to compete side-by-side with his seniors Folayang and Banario at ONE Championship’s “Heroes of the World” event, which takes place at the Venetian Hotel’s Cotai Arena in Macau, China on August 13.

Team Lakay’s highly-touted prospect will square off with Thailand’s Kritsada Kongsrichai in a 3-round strawweight contest, which marks as Pacio’s maiden overseas bout.

Sangiao mentioned that Pacio finds himself in an unfamiliar situation as he battles a ferocious Thai striker in his first out-of-the-country stint, but the Team Lakay headmaster conveyed that the cage encounter versus Kongsrichai is the young gun’s chance to prove his worth as a world-class athlete.

“There is pressure on his part, of course. But he should maintain his focus and keep his eye on the goal. Joshua has a good future ahead of him. He has to reach for it. This is his moment,” Sangiao said. –