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Glory In Hong Kong: Pinoys Win Big At The Asia MMA Awards

An FHM favorite won an award, too!
by Karl R. De Mesa | Sep 19, 2018
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Coach Mark Sangiao’s smile was wide and his delight electric as he held aloft the heavy metal plaque emblazoned with the Philippines’ most famous mixed martial arts team: Team Lakay.

Photo by Jc Reyes

The modest and almost Spartan gym in Baguio City had just pulled off a huge upset, beating out arguably better funded and better equipped gyms like Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand and Evolve MMA in Singapore to win Gym of the Year at the gala night.

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“On behalf of Team Lakay, I’d like to thank everyone who has been supporting the team from the beginning!” Sangiao said.

Photo by Jc Reyes

Super Typhoon Mangkhut may have been bearing down on a collision course for Hong Kong, but the night was still clear and the air crisp when we attended the gala dinner for The Fight Nation’s inaugural “Asia MMA Awards” last Friday, September 14.  

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Held at the upscale Qube at PMQ in the heart of the city’s Central district, the winners of the awards were revealed after a stringent three-stage process that included a shortlisted curation of 17 categories from experts, industry insiders, and journalists around the region, then a public voting (counted for 30 percent of the final results), and then lastly a panel of consultants that took both previous parts into account to award the crown in each category.

All in all, the awards reflected and gave deserving recognition to the greatest moments the sport has witnessed in the region over the past 12 months.

Sangiao collected a total of 2 awards that night for Gym of the Year and Best Walkout. The latter he accepted on behalf of the absent Kevin Belingon for his traditional Ifugao war dance called “Binangyu” or Warrior’s Blessing, which he does before he fights with gong players and spearmen in tow.

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Belingon bested the likes of cosplaying MMA fighters Shannon Wiratchai and Rika Ishige (who does an extremely spectacular walkout as Chun Li from Street Fighter).

“While our goal of course is to add to the championship belts, in my 15 years of coaching I didn’t expect to even be able to eligible for these nominations. This is because of the teamwork and hard work of our athletes,” Sangiao said.

With 3 championship belts already enshrined on their trophy shelf (Stephen Loman in Brave FC, Geje Eustaquio, and Kevin Belingon in One Championship) and now two of the biggest plums in the Asia MMA Awards, Team Lakay has been having a truly tremendous year in the sport.  

The Pinoy flag flew high again later in the night as the UFC’s Red dela Cruz, a Quezon City girl now based in Sydney, Australia, got the plum for Ring Girl of the Year, beating out the South Korean beauty Lee Ji Na of One Championship and Road FC’s Lim Ji Woo.  

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Photo by Jc Reyes

“I feel very good!” said an elated and almost overwhelmed dela Cruz. “I’m very surprised, but very happy. Thank you to all the fans who have supported me from the start!”

At the end of the night the most coveted plums went to One Championship’s champ-champ, the twice-belted king Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen for Male Fighter of the Year and Road FC’s relentlessly rising juggernaut Ham Seo-Hee for Female Fighter of the Year.

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“I’m very honored to get recognition for all the hard work and dedication I put into this sport,” the victorious Vietnamese-Australian Nguyen said. “I want to thank everyone who has been supporting me from day one, especially the fans.”  

Photo by Jc Reyes

South Korea’s Ham was glad to be finally in the spotlight and looked close to shedding tears of joy when we had words with her after her win.

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“I’ve been training hard for the past six years and this year is the culmination of all my work. This award inspires me to keep going and continue to train harder,” said the 31-year-old UFC veteran and current Road FC atomweight.

With 200 of Asian MMA’s major players and luminaries gathered at that gala celebration, perhaps the event’s biggest accomplishment was not only to recognize the sport’s spectacular moments and achievements but to build a platform of community and to strengthen bonds of passion that will enable the sport to grow and its fighters, coaches, and fans to realize that the same love burns within them, saying: hey, we’re not alone. 


Best Walkout - Kevin Belingon, ONE Championship

Photographer of the Year - David Ash

Best Technical Equipment - Venum

Amateur Fighter of the Year - Theebaan Govindasamy, MIMMA

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Best Destination Gym - Tiger Muay Thai & MMA

Ring Girl of the Year - Red Dela Cruz, UFC

Event of the Year - UFC Shanghai: Bisping vs. Gastelum

Most Functional Clothing Brand - Reebok

Rookie of the Year - Hwang In-Su, ROAD FC

Gym of the Year - Team Lakay

Submission of the Year - Kang Kyung-Ho subs. Guido Cannetti (triangle) – UFC Fight Night 127

Head Coach of the Year - George Hickman, Tiger Muay Thai & MMA

Knockout of the Year - Alain Ngalani KO’d Hideki Sekine - ONE: Total Victory

TFN Readers’ Choice Award - Max Leali

Fight of the Year - Moon Jea-Hoon vs. Asakura Kai, Road FC

Male Fighter of the Year - Martin Nguyen, ONE Championship

Female Fighter of the Year - Ham Seo-Hee, ROAD FC


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