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The expert’s opinion: How champions are forged

With four of its fighters currently holding Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) championship belts, Team Lakay is — without a shadow of a doubt — the top fight team in the Philippines. But in a country filled with athletically-gifted fighters, how does this Baguio-based gym consistently produce champions such as Eduard Folayang, Kevin Belingon, Honorio Banario and Roy Docyogen? The secret, as I discovered through a brief interview with its founder Mark Sangiao, lies with the mind.

Known for pushing a relentless pace and engaging opponents with unflagging aggression, Team Lakay fighters are ravagers of the ring, killers in the cage. Yet if you’ve met its founder, Mark Sangiao, you would never have guessed it. A picture of quiet confidence and a paragon of placidity, Mr. Sangiao shares his wisdom in a gentle and unassuming way — a fitting reflection of his approach to forging champions, which prizes mental fortitude as much as physical prowess.

Ivan Yap (IY): From your experience, what are the attributes that differentiate champions from other fighters?

Mark Sangiao (MS): Champion fighters are very different from regular fighters. Champions set clear goals, and pursue them with unwavering discipline and utmost patience. Champions possess a hardworking attitude, are always willing to learn, and have strong faith in God.

IY: How do you instill these mental attributes in your fighters? Do you have a specific regime in place, or are they an automatic product of your gym’s culture?

MS: We brief all gym members on the need to observe these principles, but we expect the attributes to really take root when they advance to the stage of being able to represent Team Lakay as fighters. Over time, the attributes have become engrained in our gym culture — especially when members see them being demonstrated by Team Lakay’s senior fighters and, of course, the champions.

IY: Do you inject elements of sport psychology into your coaching? Do you believe in the effectiveness of techniques such as imagery, pre-fight routines and self-talk?

MS: Yes, I do include sport psychology in my coaching and have found it to be invaluable for motivating my fighters, especially when they feel like giving up or when they start making excuses to get out of training, such as claiming that their bodies are breaking down from the intensity. I use sport psychology techniques throughout — before, during and after competitions.

IY: Team Lakay’s fighters are known to train extensively in natural environs. In your opinion, does this approach yield physical and mental benefits beyond that which are obtained through training in a cutting-edge gym, for example MusclePharm’s Training Facility which Rampage Jackson was privy to when he was training for his fight with Jon Jones?

MS: Yes, there are definite benefits to training in natural surroundings. Aside from pragmatic perks such as being able to save money, the fresh air that we inhale and the fact that our fighters are far away from potential vices contribute greatly to enhancing their athletic performance. With that said, we do also train in regular gyms because such facilities have a role in developing specific parts of our muscles and bodies.

URCC welterweight and flyweight champions Eduard Folayang (L) and Kevin Belingon (R) stay in tip-top shape by training on hilltops. Training away from built-up areas enables Team Lakay fighters to purge urban distractions from their minds and to focus on building up their skills.

IY: Team Lakay’s fighters also train at high altitudes. High altitude training has been proven to improve certain aspects of physical performance, but do you think that there are mental benefits to be gleaned as well?

MS: Yes, the high altitude training we engage in helps us produce more red blood cells which aid in transferring greater amounts of oxygen to the different parts of our bodies and to our brains. This improves our conditioning and also enables us to make faster decisions during the heat of competition.

Nothing builds cardio — and character — like a punishing run along a hilly route.

Team Lakay’s hilly surrounds are breathtaking…

…literally.

IY: As its name suggests, Team Lakay espouses the value of brotherhood [Note: “Lakay” stands for “brother”]. Do you think that the resultant camaraderie has played a part in your team’s success?

MS: Absolutely. Team Lakay is all about brotherhood. If a member of our team fights, everybody rallies together to support and help him or her in training. The success of one is a success for all.

Company of champions: Success breeds success at Team Lakay

IY: Thank you for your time, Mr. Sangiao.

MS: Thank you very much for the interview.

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