Three takeaways from Team Philippines’ 2021 in ONE Championship

Published January 4, 2022, 10:25 AM

by Manila Bulletin Sports

joshua pacio
Joshua Pacio (ONE Championship)

Fighters from the Philippines had their share of triumphs, heartbreaks, and gut-stopping action at ONE Championship for the past 12 months. 

Several young guns made their debuts, a world champion kept his belt, and another lost his title. With 2021 coming to a close, it’s time to review what transpired for our local fighters.  

Here are three takeaways from the year for Filipinos in the world’s largest martial arts organization. 

Team Lakay’s Next Generation Is For Real  

Led by ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua “The Passion” Pacio, who successfully returned by beating Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta, Team Lakay’s future looks bright.  

Considered the face of this generation, Pacio will walk into 2022 as the lone Filipino ONE World Champion. But several of his young teammates who made their debuts this year could join him on the pedestal soon. 

Jenelyn Olsim had a stellar year, going 2-1, with the lone loss coming in the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix, wherein she came in as a replacement to battle Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat

Stephen “The Sniper” Loman made a grand introduction after knocking out #3-ranked bantamweight Yusup “Maestro” Saadulaev. Jeremy “The Juggernaut” Pacatiw was also dominant in his debut against “The Ghost” Chen Rui.  

Then there’s 19-year-old Jhanlo Mark “The Machine” Sangiao, who lived up to the hype when he easily defeated Paul “The Great King” Lumihi via an impressive first-round submission.  

The year only proved that the fabled MMA gym is here to stay, and they are anticipating an exciting year ahead. 

Pinoys Find Home Abroad  

A small group of Filipino athletes took their chance in a start-up gym in Thailand, hoping for a fresh start in their respective fighting careers.  

Marrok Force helped #2-ranked atomweight contender Denice “Lycan Queen” Zamboanga, Drex “T-Rex” Zamboanga, and Jeremy “The Jaguar” Miado thrive in their new setup.  

With plenty of solid training partners and experienced coaches available, Miado showed significant improvement in his lone match this year against Miao Li Tao, winning via second-round TKO. 

Denice Zamboanga lost controversially this year but performed better than in her previous bouts. After all, “Arale Chan” Ham Seo Hee is easily the best fighter she ever faced.  

That said, expect more MMA athletes from the Philippines to flock into the Bangkok-based gym. 

A Changing Of The Guard?  

While the younger generation like Pacio and Zamboanga are ready to represent the country against the best MMA fighters worldwide, the old guard hasn’t been as successful in 2021. 

Longtime ONE Heavyweight World Champion Brandon “The Truth” Vera lost his strap this year. Former world champions in Eduard “Landslide” Folayang and Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon, as well as former top contender Rene “The Challenger” Catalan, dropped their respective matches.  

It’s not the end of the road for any of these pillars, but 2022 will be a crucial crossroad in their careers. 

Read More From ONE Championship:  

Joshua Pacio Shakes Off 2021 Pressures, Looks Forward To Big 2022 

Jarred Brooks ‘Seeing Tunnel Vision’ As He Aims For Pacio In 2022 

Buoyed By Stellar Debut, Jhanlo Sangiao’s Goal Is World Title Gold