My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 12: Best of the Arts in Manila

It’s been almost a year and a half since I first stepped into a boxing gym for my first lesson.

After about six months of that, I tried my hand (and foot, knee, elbow) at Muay Thai for a few months, before taking a break for a trip to Australia.

Upon returning to the Philippines, I trained for a few weeks at Lakay, an MMA gym in the mountains of Baguio City. While there, I was introduced to grappling and–seeing how terrible I was at it–I took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu back here in Manila.

Now I’m packing my bags for the skies again and wrapping up my third month of jiu-jitsu at Fitness Unlimited.

Here are my favorite things about each art I’ve had the pleasure of trying in Manila (and Baguio).


Elorde was my boxing home for some time and I had a number of good trainers but I must say that it was at The Den where I, shall we say perfected, my punches with the help of one of their head trainers.


The Den Fitness and Athletics; get great apparel from Pinay Fitness


Here’s what I love about boxing: It’s fun to hit things, and in Manila, there are gyms on every street corner where you can do just that. If you want the real deal, though, I hear you have to train with the national boxing team and they have relocated to Baguio–another reason to head north for your training.

Bonus: nothing gives you tight abs like boxing. Jiu-jitsu comes close, though.

Muay Thai

I’ve done a bit of Muay Thai at Elorde, The Den, B.A.M.F., Team Lakay,  iGym Yaw-Yan Fervilleon, and Fitness Unlimited.

Why I love Muay Thai: it challenged my balance and improved my footwork, which was a weakness of mine when boxing. It also forces you to master your breathing–I nearly hyperventilated the first time I did 50 kicks–and builds serious leg muscle.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

With a 30-day trial at B.A.M.F. and then three months at Fitness Unlimited, I’ve enjoyed a fairly solid introduction to the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

What I love about jiu-jitsu: it’s a struggle from the bottom up, but–comparable to say, rock climbing–nothing is more satisfying than getting past the point where you almost give up and making it to the top, in this case, of your opponent.

Jiu-jitsu is, in my opinion, humbler than boxing or kickboxing, or perhaps it would be better to say that it’s more humbling–and that’s exactly what I love about it.

Also, you can join amateur competitions after only a month of training, whereas competing in boxing or Muay Thai can be a little more daunting.


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Brazilian jiu-jitsu class at Fitness Unlimited Submission Sport Paranaque



MMA is a violent sport. To be honest, I’ve never watched UFC and, excepting names like Rousey and MacGregor that buzz around, I don’t know any of its fighters.

As a hobby, a workout routine, and a competitive challenge, however, I find it quite fantastic. It’s an excellent way to build physical, mental, and practical strength, fitness, balance, speed, and coordination and it never gets boring.

Plus, it feels good to know that you could sweep someone twice your size off of you and incapacitate them if necessary.

Hands down, my favorite place to practice MMA is Team Lakay in Baguio. There’s nothing quite like it.


My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 11: This One is Personal

So my MMA journey has been more than a journey about MMA.

My life as I knew it ended quite definitively a few months ago and here I am, on the path of rediscovery. So far, I can say that it has without a doubt been the most difficult one I’ve walked yet.

Today, I would like to say, to friends, to family, to strangers:

I’d like to think I’m good at being strong and I don’t exactly like receiving attention (Why am I blogging again?) but that makes me good at pretending to be OK and sometimes I’m not. When life falls apart it’s an opportunity to rebuild and that, truthfully, is fairly exciting. It still hurts, though.

When I’m not OK, please don’t worry about me; don’t look at me with pity. Do nothing but acknowledge and carry on with me as usual; neither seek me out nor ignore me. I want neither more attention nor less. I still want to smile and enjoy everything that’s good but I also want to be able to cry and not ignore everything that’s bad and I can do that only with people who are comfortable with me not being alright all the time.

To those in my life with whom I’ve been out of touch: chances are the things I’m going through are not about you and you can’t do anything with or about it anyway. If you are concerned you’ll acknowledge that and give me space and freedom to make the decisions I need to make without having to worry about you worrying about me. I need to trust that you know I still love and care for you even though I don’t have much time or emotional space for you right now.

To those in my life who are trying to understand my situation and draw conclusions: don’t. Let it be.

Don’t ask me to tell you the story of what happened like it’s an interesting piece of news and don’t make me justify what is happening in my life to you. Don’t ask me why or why not. Don’t tell me it’s awkward.

To my new family at the gym: you guys have been amazing and have kept me sane in ways you’ll never know. I will always have gratitude in my heart for you.

To the good Christians who I thought were, dare I not say family but let’s settle on friends when I first moved to Manila: please remove yourself from my life so that we can stop pretending you have any concern for me or mine.

How odd that sometimes the angels among us are not the pastors or the missionaries who say they are here to preach God’s love.

Instead, I’ve found angelic folk in unexpected places.

Take those sweaty people at the gym, for example. The ones who teach you how to fight your way up from the bottom, how to cope when you’re being crushed, how to get hurt and never give up, how to show respect and compassion, how to come out on top, win or lose, broken and bruised, laughing and smiling and giving glory to God.


My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 10: Participation Gold

Yes, finally: my first competition!

Some time ago I consulted an MMA veteran who teaches grappling and no-gi jiu-jitsu every Friday night at Fitness Unlimited. I told him I wanted to compete in MMA and he gave me some very useful advice: when you’re learning how to drive, you don’t start in a race car.

He recommended competing in jiu-jitsu first, a great entry-level fighting sport, then boxing, then Muay Thai, and finally, MMA.

Yesterday I took the first step down that path by competing in the BJJFP Friendship Games for gi and no gi jiu-jitsu and since I’m just a beginner and don’t own my own properly sized gi, I went with no gi.

These are gis, by the way, and my gi buddies:


As you can see, mine is far too large.

Let’s see, I joined jiu-jitsu and fight form classes at Fitness Unlimited in the third week of August which means I’ve had about six weeks of training two-to-four nights a week.

We do gi training on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday and no gi on Friday, which is what I began to focus on in the last week or two leading up to the competition.

A month or so before joining this gym, I did two sessions of submission grappling at Team Lakay in Baguio and two Brazilian jiu-jitsu lessons at B.A.M.F. in Paranaque and that was for my foundation in the sport.

Fortunately, we have some great coaches here at Fitness Unlimited and a supportive, seriously fun group of training partners. We have two purple belts from Atos teaching gi jiu-jitsu and, as I mentioned earlier, a former pro MMA fighter teaching no gi.

I’m truly pleased I joined Team FU and signed up for this competition. Even though I hardly felt I knew enough to be competing in a sport I’d just taken up, I was eager to face a fight and this experience certainly lived up to my expectations.

The competition I joined was hosted by BJJFP, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation of the Philippines, in Mall of Asia. It was a two-day event, with the National Championships on Saturday and the Friendship Games on Sunday.

The BJJ Friendship Games are for novices–white belts who haven’t won any medals yet–so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me test my rolling skills on the competition mats.

I got there at noon, in time to watch the last of the gi matches while waiting for the no gi competition to start.

I was handed a gold medal upon arrival.

Thanks, I guess.

Either no one else signed up in my weight division or they fled the scene upon my arrival.

That moment when you realize you played the intimidation game so well nobody shows up to fight you.


Oh, for some reason I decided to wear my mouth guard in the fight even though I haven’t been training or sparring with it and I forgot that it affects my breathing.

When the gi competition wraps up there’s a short break and the no gi rollers start popping up in their rash guards.

I watch a few of the girls in the other weight divisions compete and then I start my warm up. My team mates, who had all been there since early in the morning, stuck around to wait for my fight and help me with takedown and submission drills.

As winners emerge from the other divisions, some sign up to compete in the absolute category where I had been waiting as the only name on the list with my “participation gold” medal.

My name was called and on went my game face. I was pretty nervous but at that point adrenaline more or less took over and helped me focus.

If there was one thing I wanted out of the fight, it was to get a good takedown. I had been practicing takedowns with a wrestler at the gym and was hoping to get a good slam but alas, my opponent fell into guard every time I attempted one.

If I keep practicing, go for it, and commit, next time around I know can get it. There will have to be a next time then.

Here we go, play by play:

I get in and out of her guard; we stand up again; she falls back into guard, flips over me, and gets side control. I bridge out and attempt side control but we end up back on our feet.

She tries once more to pull me into guard but I pass and get side control, only my base isn’t right so she gets one of my legs and uses that to flip me.

When she gets on top I lock her into guard and hold that for a good minute and a half while attempting a kimura submission. I can’t get it so I eventually go for an arm bar instead but my technique is sloppy and now that I’ve broken my guard she flips around and attempts side control.

I don’t let her get it but now I end up in her guard. She tries the kimura on me but I don’t give her my arm.

I get out of her guard eventually but it takes a lot of energy and as I stand up she kicks me onto my back. I have the energy to keep her from passing my open guard for maybe fifteen second but once she gets side control and puts her weight on me I’m spent.

I try to bridge out like I did the first time but I have neither the strength nor the energy to do so and my futile attempts result in her getting full mount.

With less than thirty seconds on the clock, I don’t give her a submission but it does take everything I have left to focus on breathing and counting down the seconds until the end of the round.

One five minute round and my arms and legs were jelly. The walk back to the bleachers gave me as much resistance as swimming against the tide and when I sat down my limbs were shaking.

What can I say? More than anything, I’m glad I had this experience. Also, I stayed to watch my opponent for up against another girl for the finals of the absolute division and she got her in an arm bar within thirty seconds. That made me feel quite proud of surviving that round with her.

I certainly know what to work on. I didn’t expect much, honestly. I know I haven’t been training long enough to have mastered even the basic submission techniques and I don’t know the points game either but I do see potential and I’m going to keep training.

Let’s see, I need to improve my technique, my base, my breathing, and my energy expenditure, and I need to do more five-minute sparring rounds at the gym.

I’ll happily sign up to compete again in the next month or two before leaving the Philippines but first I’m going to pack my bag and take off to the beach for a couple of days.

I’ll hit the mats again as soon as I get back and I’m also going to seriously consider getting back into boxing. I wouldn’t mind getting back into the ring for an amateur boxing match, since that is the next step in my amateur MMA journey.

Thanks for following!



My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 9: Casually Cutting Weight for Jiu-Jitsu

Generally speaking, it’s not necessary to cut weight for jiu-jitsu. Unlike other fight sports, it’s typically recommended that you go into a jiu-jitsu competition at your ordinary weight: it is an asset, after all.

If you are planning on cutting a significant amount of weight, it’s best to do so a few months before your match so that you can train for it at your new weight. Basically, if you train at 130 pounds and lose ten right before the fight, you’ll have ten fewer pounds of strength than you’re used to having when you roll and that’s something you want to avoid.

My reason for casually dropping a few pounds is that I happen to be just above the threshold of the leve or lightweight division. The next category after that is everything above, so if I compete in “No Gi” and I don’t cut lightweight I could very well end up getting crushed by someone twice my size–something I don’t particularly enjoy when it comes to grappling.

There are more weight divisions for competing with a gi but my problem in that category is that the gi I’m training in is too big for me. It’s quite heavy too, and you have to weigh in wearing your gi on the day of the competition.

Buying a nice light and well-fitted gi would be great, only they’re quite expensive and I’d only use it for two months or so before going abroad. Light as they may come, a gi is not the sort of outfit for which I have space in my ’round-the-world suitcase so it simply doesn’t make sense for me to buy one.

Anyway, with a gi on I’d be safely below light heavyweight and pass for medio but, in summary, I’m quite certain I’ll be going for “No Gi” and that brings us back to cutting weight.

I started at 130 pounds or about 59 kilos a week or so ago and I’ve since lost something like one kilo. The weight limit for no-gi leve (lightweight division) is 56.5 so with weeks to go I’ve got another kilo-and-a-half to lose. Crunch time.

Can I just say that I hate dieting?

I feel like the whole point of being fit and having a bunch of active hobbies is that you can eat and drink whatever you like, whenever you like. When you’re healthy, your body tends to crave healthy food anyway so that’s a pretty good safeguard.

As much as I’m long over dieting or losing weight just to reach some golden number, I am OK with cutting weight for a good cause. Thus, although I dislike the ordeal, I’ve had to get into some fairly serious casual dieting.

This has been my fairly successful three-pronged battle plan so far: counting calories, eating protein and plants, and doing fight form circuit training at my new favorite MMA gym in Manila. That is, of course, in addition to training jiu-jitsu, which I do about four nights a week, all right here at Fitness Unlimited.


1. Counting Calories

I can’t tell you how much I hate that I’m saying this but I’ve started counting calories.

It is probably one of the least pleasant things one can spend their time doing but, let’s face it, it’s effective. I’ve only done it once before and while it worked as far as dropping the pounds it felt entirely like not living.

To be honest, it’s been easier for me this time around, so there’s some luck. Regardless, I would never do it as a permanent part of my life. I do strongly believe that one’s life should not be controlled by a number of any sort.

So far, a little over a week of calorie counting has gotten me almost half the way to achieving my goal. I would consider a month of doing so plenty effective for hitting a weight target and walking away with a better idea of what calories mean and how they affect your body and weight.

What I like about cutting weight for a sport is that, even though you have to limit your calorie intake, you’re forced to seek out calories with the highest possible nutritional density.

You’ll be hungry after training and you won’t be able to load up on whatever food can make it to you fastest. (That’s you, pizza!)

Instead, you have to pick and plan your meals carefully and make sure you’re getting all the nutrition you need to stay strong without exceeding your calorie limit. Anything that’s full of sugar or empty calories will be a hard and easy no.

Figuring out how many calories you should be eating to hit your weight target is a simple calculation, by the way.

I weigh this much, I exercise this much, and I want to lose this much weight: how many calories should I consume per day? If you’re using an app like MyFitnessPal it’ll work it all out for you and there are plenty of online calculators as well.


2. Eating Protein and Plants

Now, please, let’s forget about calories for a minute and talk about nutrition.

I’ve always believed that the nutritional quality of what you consume is far more important than caloric quantity and when I’m done counting calories I’ll go back to making sure my food healthy and caring less about how much of it I’m eating.

When you’re exercising, the most important macronutrient is protein, so let’s talk meat versus vegetarian.

Having done small amounts of research that I’ve found quite conclusive to the forming of my personal opinion, I am of the persuasion that the ideal fighter’s diet is based on nuts and vegetables.

Call it hunter-gatherer, call it paleo, call it raw vegan, call it whatever: eating mostly unprocessed, mostly uncooked, mostly plant-based foods that our ancestors would have mostly had access to is the best way to eat.

I see no reason to be ridiculously strict with it though.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors wouldn’t have had access to vegetables because they didn’t farm? So what? I do and I’m going to eat them.

I can’t get a hold of nuts of some other healthy raw vegan or vegetarian protein? I’ll have fish. I’ll have chicken. Chill. (I eat beef and pork sometimes too but I’m not particularly into that kind of thing.)

Back to chicken for a serious moment: if you’re any kind of fighter, skin is way, way out of the question. There is no chill when it comes to chicken skin. Sorry; I tried.

Let’s get practical. How can you make your meals mostly unprocessed, uncooked, and plant-based?

Well, the other day I hit up Salad Stop and opted for an affordable and nutrition-packed salad bowl with tandoori chicken, chickpeas, and yogurt dressing for only 260 pesos (a little over $5). I think this met the brief quite reasonably and, for 300-some calories, it was quite filling.


Another time, I went for a proper vegetarian salad with tofu and soybeans for the same price, although it did cost me a bit more in calories.

I love seeing places like this open up in the Metro, by the way. We seriously need more options for healthy food around here.

Recently, I had dinner at one of the city’s timeless restaurants for the health-minded, Corner Tree Cafe in Makati, with a very fit and health-conscious vegetarian who reminded me why I once actually was vegetarian for a while: energy.

I don’t know how else to say it: meat weighs you down.

Well, me anyway, and other people too, but maybe not you in particular. You get to make your own choices. I know people who simply cannot be sustained on a vegetarian diet.

Anyway, I’ve even been inspired to go back to, over time, possibly, an entirely vegetarian diet and to learn how to do some of my own vegetarian cooking at some point in the near future.

I’ve long been privileged to have other people cook for me, which really is great. It’s not only because I don’t like to cook but also that I’m legitimately terrible at it.

However, whether or not you enjoy it, know how to do it, or are any good at it, cooking your own food is the best way to control your diet and that’s basically that.


3. Doing Fight Form Circuit Training

This is the final and most intense element of my fight prep but luckily it takes the least amount of time.

The Fight Form circuits at Fitness Unlimited Submission Sport Paranaque are genuinely awesome and I don’t like saying that about too many things.

The coaches there are legit and the circuits they put together every day are killer.

When I enrolled at the gym, I got one month of free circuit training with my jiu-jitsu classes so I started doing the two hand-in-hand.

The circuits are all day and every hour and what works best for me is to get the one right before jiu-jitsu to minimize travel time to the gym and back.

Since I’ve been doing fight form, I haven’t gotten injured while rolling–disregarding all the bruises of course. When I grappled and rolled before, my rib cage and lower back were in a constant state of distress but Fight Form has helped me build some serious core strength.

The other night my partner’s shoulder flew into my ribs as she was practicing a takedown and I was quite certain I would be feeling that for a while. Instead, the initial pain faded quickly and I wasn’t bothered by it a bit.

Fight Form is excellent for conditioning in general and for building arm and leg strength–the latter being especially important for wrestling takedowns, which are, in turn, quite fun to use in jiu-jitsu.


That’s all for tonight. I’ll let you know where I’m at in two weeks when it comes time to compete!


My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 8: Yaw-Yan, Jiu-Jitsu, and My New Gym

In all honesty, I’ve been a bit slow in picking up my MMA journey since returning to Manila. Maybe I miss the training at Lakay or the fresh mountain air. Perhaps the inferior Manila diet is what’s been leaving my body feeling drained, or perhaps it’s purely emotional. A lot has happened in the past week or two.

Today, however, I am happy to announce that the search for a new gym–and with it my training slump–has ended.

Not long after returning to the metro, a friend invited me to iGym Yaw-Yan Fervilleon at a wellness facility offering everything from yoga and meditation with an in-house guru to tai chi and aikido to the full MMA experience of boxing, Muay Thai, and jiu-jitsu.

Since I had never heard of or tried yaw-yan–a Filipino style of kickboxing–before, I took a session with their expert trainer for only 300 pesos (less than $6).

I enjoyed training at this gym, even though it was a bit far away. It’s hidden deep in a dirty side street off of Sucat Avenue but once you step inside the gate you’ll find a hidden sanctuary with a grassy lawn, a pergola for yoga and meditation, and a semi-open-air training area.

I definitely enjoyed the fresh air coming through the screen–a nice alternative to training in a walled-in space. What was unfortunate, however, was the strong smell of sewage in the air. This might have been a temporary issue in that part of the city but, along with the distance, it was enough to make me hesitant to sign up for regular classes here.

And it’s a good thing I didn’t because it wasn’t long before I met a jiu-jitsu purple belt who teaches at a gym right down the road from where I live. Score! He invited me to take a free trial class at Fitness Unlimited Submission Sport Parañaque and join his class there, which I did.

They were expecting me when I got to the gym and I received a warm welcome. The owner, John, gave me the lowdown on the types of training they offer and gave me an excellent deal on enrollment.


For the monthly fee of 2,500 pesos (barely $50) for jiu-jitsu classes, I get the registration, plus an additional month of jiu-jitsu, plus one month of circuit training for free. Sold!

Of course, when it comes to jiu-jitsu in the south B.A.M.F. is great but let’s be honest, it’s a bit pricey. Unless you commit to a six month training period or longer, you’ll pay 4,500 pesos (almost $90) per month for two sessions a week and I don’t even think that includes the membership fee.

As much as I enjoyed the jiu-jitsu classes there, I’ll only be in the Philippines for three more months so it’s not worth it for me. How fortunate, then, that I found Fitness Unlimited.

Our purple-belted instructor in fact trains at Atos Jiu-Jitsu Greenhills, one of the best teams in Asia and a fast-growing worldwide jiu-jitsu community. That’s a whole ‘nother part of town though, and with Manila traffic, it would take me forever to get there and back.

I am a beginner anyway and I quite enjoy the intimacy of smaller classes at the gym in my part of town.

In my first class at Fitness Unlimited, I impressed myself by pulling off a complicated flip-your-opponent-over-your-head-then-roll-over-your-own-head-and-end-up-on-top move that I never thought I would get thanks to the coach’s straightforward method: “Do it 10 times.” “Ok, good. Do it 10 more times.”


Yes, jiu-jitsu is all kinds of fun.

So far the circuit training has been great too and I have lots of sore muscles to attest to that. I’ve been meaning to build up my core strength in particular–you really do need that for MMA–and the circuits have been great for that already.

I’m looking forward to my second jiu-jitsu class this evening. We’ll have a new coach today but hopefully my sparring buddies from last time will be there again. Those girls were fierce. They will be competing in Quezon City next Saturday and if I can I will definitely watch.

One last reason to come to Fitness Unlimited Submission Sport Paranaque (as if that promo isn’t reason enough) is that they have a proper, functioning speed bag.

I haven’t had one of those to train with since my first boxing gym. Now I bring my wraps every day for speed bag drills before the circuits and jiu-jitsu classes.


By the way, you can also do Muay Thai (or boxing) instead of jiu-jitsu for the same price.

Lots of reasons to come and find these guys in on 118 Armstrong Avenue, Moonwalk Parañaque, Metro Manila.


P.S. They have a water cooler, bathrooms with toilet paper, and nice clean showers.

My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 7: URCC XXX


Last night, four champions defended their titles in stunning fashion at URCC XXX at the Araneta Coliseum.


SMART Araneta Coliseum from the upper box


This was my first time attending a live MMA or fighting event of any kind, in fact, and I was not disappointed by the action.


The night’s warriors


I arrived just in time to see the lineup, followed by my friend Kiko Matos’ quick and easy wipe out on his cocky challenger Billy Jack Sanchez.


Pro-am celebrity fighter Kiko Matos makes his entrance



Matos and Sanchez in the cage


With a solid takedown, Matos took full mount and pounded his jiu-jitsu blue-belt opponent until he gave him back control, where Matos finished the fight only two minutes into the first round with a rear-naked choke–my own favorite move.

(Was it a black belt that Sanchez held? Whatever the color, it didn’t help him much.)

In fact, four of the nights nine fights ended in an RNC. Korean grappler Do Gyeom Lee’s submission was certainly a crowd favorite. He took his opponent down so many times in the fight’s one and only round I felt bad for the floor. Jojo Orao got out and got up time after time, but once Lee secured had him down in the RNC there was no escape.

Korean grappler Do Gyeom Lee’s submission was certainly a crowd favorite. He took his opponent down so many times in the fight’s one and only round I felt bad for the floor. Jojo “El Matador” Orao got out and got up time after time, but once Lee the “Undead” secured had him down in the RNC there was no escape.

The longest and in my opinion most well-matched fight of the night was between two flyweight kids, Fritz Biagtan and Solomon Dultra. For three rounds they gave and took one beating after another, with flurries of kicks, knees, punches, and a brutal elbow. The fight was stopped by the referee near the four-minute mark of the third round after a barrage of strikes from Biagtan annihilated Dultra.

For three rounds they gave and took one beating after another, with flurries of kicks, knees, punches, and a brutal elbow. The fight was stopped by the referee near the four-minute mark of the third round after a barrage of strikes from Biagtan annihilated Dultra.

Another remarkable victory was taken by Filipino-American Derrick Easterling, who won by knock out in the second round and flaunted his victory astride the cage. Being part African-American, Easterling didn’t quite look the Filipino but he put an end to any confusion by walking out with the flag to a song about Filipino roots. I suppose he wanted to be sure that the crowd knew they could cheer for him and his victory over the full-blooded Jiar “The Twister” Castillo.

On to the night’s main event, DEFTAC’s very own Swiss-Filipino Chris Hofmann, who I’ve had the pleasure of training with once or twice at B.A.M.F., rose to defend his middleweight title from Canadian fighter Robert Sothmann.

Despite his challenger’s taunts that he was “in for a rude awakening”, Hofmann withstood a couple of strong kicks, a choke hold, and a knee to the face from Sothmann and went on to dominate the fight, which was stopped by the referee seconds before the end of the first round. Hofmann brought Sothmann down against the cage with a stunning straight to the face and unleashed such a fury of punches that, after half a minute of trying to take it, his opponent tapped out.

Hofmann brought Sothmann down against the cage with a stunning straight to the face and unleashed such a fury of punches that, after half a minute of trying to take it, his opponent tapped out.

The night wasn’t over yet, however. Next up, URCC presented live on television for the first time in the Philippines a most-ridiculous three-on-three team fight.

Yes, it was ridiculous and it didn’t last very long. After that, there was a Red Horse drinking game on stage and I took that as my cue to get going. I don’t think I will ever be desperate enough to drink Red Horse.

And that was the night. Despite some glitches, delays, and scheduling issues, it was quite entertaining.

My favorite move of the night was when one fighter was on his back with his legs in guard while the other, standing, launched himself into the air and came crashing down on his opponent with a flying fist. Now that’s commitment.

Yes, good fun and a good night.

Congratulations to all four champions for defending their titles in such spectacular fashion!

My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 6: Last Days at Lakay

Check out Gina Iniong of Team Lakay in red: that is one fierce striker! Fighting goals.

And it is settled: I’m going to need tiny braids or cornrows if I want to be an MMA fighter. A bun can almost cut it for kickboxing but it is hugely impractical when you’re rolling on the ground.

Yesterday, I went to the Team Lakay La Trinidad gym one last time (for now) to train with coach JC. Seriously, this guy is a badass and one hard-working trainer as well. He handles all the 9:30-11am and 5-6:30 pm classes and does one-on-one sessions in between.

Jonchris Corton, known around the gym as coach JC, is a fighter too. The kind that does this sort of damage to his opponent and walks away looking like this.

Brutal! (Photo courtesy of Jonchris Corton’s Facebook page)

He makes every move he demonstrates in the gym look as easy as flipping a pancake, only instead of a pancake it’s more likely his opponent being tossed in the air.


What I’ve Learned at Lakay

After ten classes and a one-on-one session with coach JC just this Friday morning, to say I’ve learned a lot may be the understatement of my year.

I’ve learned how to spar, how to land hits, and how to take them: pretty basic stuff if we’re talking about MMA but I hadn’t actually done any of this before.

I’ve learned how to execute deadly combinations, fake moves, and not show my opponent what’s coming next. I’ve learned how to target sweet spots like the liver or solar plexus.

I’ve learned how to grapple and get a submission by locking my arms and legs in just the right holds and squeezing the breath right out of my opponent and I’ve had a bit of practice toughening up my neck, arms, and torso to hold off on tapping out.

Yesterday’s private lesson on defensive movement was especially enlightening and I will go back to Manila with lots to practice. In my last group session that evening I learned a few more takedowns and tried to get better at falling.


My Final Sessions

Having come back to Baguio late last Thursday after a few Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu lessons at B.A.M.F. and taking a family day on Friday, I planned my three remaining sessions at Lakay on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Honestly, ever since I first grappled at Lakay three weeks ago my ribcage has been in some state of mild-to-moderate injury. Add a few kicks to the bruised areas from sparring at Lakay and some rolling at B.A.M.F., and I’m starting to wince when I move around.

A bit of stretching, occasional rest, and a painkiller when needed usually does the trick and allows me to keep training. During my second grappling lesson at Lakay last Saturday I made it through the takedowns and rolling but toward the end of the session, the girl I was sparring with got her knees locked around my lower ribs and with barely a squeeze I tapped right out and was momentarily in enough pain that I teared up a little.

I sat out the last few rounds of that training, looking forward to mandatory rest on Sunday when the gym is closed.

On Monday we did conditioning, kicking drills, and shadow boxing: no problems there.

However, when I came in for what would have been my tenth session on Tuesday and we started rolling in the warm-up, I did a front roll on what I must say are some hard mats, landed poorly, and somehow managed to sustain some kind of injury to my ribs and side that rendered me entirely useless for the rest of the training.

After resting on Wednesday, and knowing I would be returning to Manila with my daughter Friday night, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity for a private lesson; I know that I still need to do a lot of work on my defense.

While I couldn’t quite put my full strength into the moves JC taught me Thursday morning, I did learn an entirely new defensive stance and style for my height and range that will be totally awesome once I practice it more.

I planned to return that evening to talk with the famous coach Mark and since I would be there any way I asked if I could redo my last class and join the 5 pm training.

I was a bit nervous when we started rolling again in the warm up–and even more so when JC demonstrated the takedowns we would be practicing after that–but everything went fine. The group was five guys and me, but fortunately, they all tried to be mindful of my poor injured ribs.

My last class at Lakay ended with three round of grappling. I am proud to say that in the last round I got the third guy to submit. I got him in back control–so far this is my best move–and executed a rear naked choke. I wouldn’t have gotten the submission, however, if coach JC hadn’t explained that I needed to get my legs in a triangle. I didn’t quite understand this at first, so my grappling partner–whilst in RNC–helped me put my leg in the right position.

Once I had the triangle and a full RNC, I squeezed as hard as I could and the guy held out for a good while before he tapped.

After that, the tables turned and he had me in a choke but I held out until the end of the round: ending my training at Lakay on a high!

Training at Lakay gets serious when the sun starts to go down.

Interviewing the Famous Coach Mark

Before leaving the gym, I spent some time watching the pro fighters start on their 6:30-9pm training and sat down with coach Mark to talk about the amazing team he built from the ground up.

He couldn’t have been more matter-of-fact when I asked him what has made Team Lakay so famous: “We win fights.”

They do indeed. Team Lakay has put the Philippines on the international stage when it comes to MMA, winning championships in Asia and around the world and sending three fighters to the UFC.

I met one of them, Dave “Scarecrow” Galera, here at the gym when he brought his submission grapplers from Team Gridlock for a group training. The other former UFC fighters are now trainers in Macau and Australia, respectively. Maybe I’ll look the latter up when I go down under later this year.

Coach Mark Sangiao, who is an international MMA and wushu trainer, tells me about his own MMA journey. He was on the national wushu team and he pursued an interest in kickboxing, Muay Thai, and finally, MMA as such fighting sports came into popularity in this region.

(Wushu differs from MMA is that it includes kickboxing and takedowns no ground work; instead, one can throw their opponent off the platform because there is no ring or cage. Now that’s entertainment.)

Starting the first Team Lakay gym in Central Baguio in 2002 was simply a matter of taking his hobby and passion and turning it into his work. Never did he imagine it would become what it is today.

The gym here in La Trinidad opened only four years ago in 2013 but since it is the larger branch it is where the main fighter training happens. In addition to training two-and-a-half hours in the evening, the fighters also have two sparring sessions and two outdoor training sessions every week.

They train some badass women here too. Go, Gina Iniong in Lakay red! (Photo courtesy of SunStar Baguio)

When talking about what makes Team Lakay the best, one cannot ignore the mountain air. In addition, Sangiao points out that the fighters here have a healthy diet of vegetables and meat. Ah, yes, I’m going to miss the abundance of fresh vegetables here when I return to Manila tonight.

Another factor I’m interested to learn more about is Lakay’s warrior roots. Coach Mark explains that here in the mountains, their ancestors were Igorot warriors who fought over the land in tribal wars. Fighting, then, is in their blood.

Joshua Pacio, 21-year-old Team Lakay fighter, recently competed in Macau (Photo courtesy of ONE Championship)

I’m sure he was joking when he suggested that I fight pro-am for Lakay to promote the team. I don’t even think I’m ready to join the 6:30 training, although he invited me to if I return–definitely something to consider and work up to one of these days.

Here at Lakay, they invite kids as young as eight years old to join classes on the weekend and many who train during the week are high school kids. In a country where drugs and alcohol are major social problems, the growing popularity of MMA motivates kids and young people to keep fit and focused and I believe we have Team Lakay and people like Mark Sangiao and other dedicated coaches and trainers to thank for that.

Personally, I would like to thank everyone at the La Trinidad gym–coaches, trainers, sparring partners, the girls who played with my daughter when I had to take her with me–for welcoming me to your gym and pushing me further along on what is hopefully still just the beginning of my MMA journey. It has been a privilege and an experience I will never forget.

Champions are not born. They are made.