MANILA, Philippines – Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao remains optimistic that Eduard Folayang and Joshua Pacio can pull off an improbable upset in their respective ONE Championship title bids.
However, both Team Lakay representatives are coming into their separate 5-round title tilts as the heavy underdog due to their opponents’ impressive résumé.
Aoki has been widely regarded as the most dominant lightweight in Asia for the better part of the last decade as he had 46 professional matches and strutted his wares in various mixed martial arts companies such as ONE Championship, DREAM, Bellator, Strikeforce and Shooto.
Being a champion is synonymous to the name of the 33-year-old Japanese as he has a long list of accolades in both MMA and submission wrestling.
Meanwhile, Naito is unbeaten in his 11 outings as a prizefighter and was a staple of Shooto, where he had 10 bouts in his 3-year run. He also once held the company’s flyweight belt.
“Aoki and Naito are champions for a reason. They have good martial arts background, and they are experienced fighters. We know that Eduard and Joshua are facing high-caliber and world-class athletes,” Sangiao told Rappler.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, Sangiao is confident that Folayang and Pacio will have their hands raised as his valued pupils have had solid preparations.
“For their title fights, we have to put an extra mile in their training. It turned out to be beneficial for both Eduard and Joshua. The real work is always done in training. I believe it’s our moment to shine this time,” he said.
Sangiao disclosed that Pacio continues to give signs of progress with nearly a week left before his championship clash against Naito.
“Joshua never ceases to impress me. In training, he gives his 110%. He is willing to learn. That’s why you can see the significant improvement in his skills,” he said. (READ: Pacio could be the next big PH MMA star, says Team Lakay coach)
2016 has already been an outstanding year for the 20-year-old Baguio City native as he made his successful ONE Championship debut in April by scoring a second-round technical knockout of compatriot Rabin Catalan before he submitted Thailand’s Kritsada Kongsrichai with a first-round rear-naked choke last August.
Like his teammate Pacio, Folayang also attained a two-fight winning streak this year, outclassing Japanese veteran Tetsuya Yamada in 3 rounds in January and then surviving a grueling encounter with Australian stalwart Adrian Pang in August.
According to Sangiao, Folayang has put more emphasis on the grappling department in training camp as he squares off with Aoki, who is known to be a submission wizard. (READ: How Eduard Folayang can beat ONE FC champ Shinya Aoki)
“We are fully aware of Aoki’s capabilities on the ground. Eduard is doing more ground work in training because Aoki wants to fight in his comfort zone. We are working on sprawls and takedown defenses,” he said .
As evidenced in his last two ONE Championship outings, Folayang displayed on-point sprawls and his ability to sinuously execute sweeps and guards, on top of showcasing his sturdy top control.
With Team Lakay currently riding high on a winning streak in non-title fights under the ONE Championship banner, Sangiao believes that the momentum is on their side.
“Definitely, the momentum is on our side. 2016 has already been a good year. We didn’t have a good start, but we bounced back from it. We went 5-0 in Manila last April. We pulled off 3-0 in Macau. Edward [Kelly] and April [Osenio] recently won,” he said.
“I truly believe that momentum is on our side. We all hope that it continues in October and November for Joshua and Eduard’s title fights,” Sangiao added.
Team Lakay might be on a triumphant roll in the Singapore-based promotion, but Sangiao refuses to be complacent while sitting on his stool as he is keen on helping Folayang and Pacio to break their 3-year championship drought. (READ: Upcoming title fights will erase past championship woes, says Team Lakay coach)
“We will end 2016 with a great joy. I believe it’s our season,” he vowed. – Rappler.com