Team Lakay fighters have been a feature of ONE Championship cards since the early days. Eduard Folayang headlined the organization’s inaugural event, while Geje Eustaquio fought on the second ever show… in Jakarta.
That was in 2012 and Eustaquio will be back in Indonesia this weekend to headline ONE: Total Victory. Last time he fought in Jakarta, the Filipino was on the undercard, but much has changed in the last five years, not least of which is the advancement of smart phones and online technology.
Team Lakay is situated in Baguio. The bus trip from Manila takes the best part of 12 hours, which means you don’t get many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts or world class wrestlers passing through or popping in during their holidays.
With a strong local culture of Wushu, the Baguio based fighters has always been good at striking. But Eustaquio believes that modern technology has helped Team Lakay get up to speed in other areas of the MMA game.
“We don’t have the best grappler in the country. There are, if I’m not mistaken, three BJJ black belts in the whole Philippines and they are in Manilla. We’re not really into Jiu-Jitsu, but with the use of technology, I believe we are better. Before we (would) do research by experience, trial and error, but (now) I can just browse Google and browse YouTube. All the skills, all the knowledge are there.”
This will be his 11th fight inside the ONE Championship cage. On his promotional debut, the 28-year-old went the distance with a BJJ black belt and won by decision, so when Eustaquio says his team isn’t “into Jiu Jitsu” there’s a certain amount of modesty involved.
At ONE: Total Victory, he’s facing an opponent with a far superior record, but much less experience when it comes to fighting for Asia’s biggest MMA promotion. Kairat Akhmetov is 23-1, but he has only fought once in the past two years.
The Kazakh beat Adriano Moraes by split decision in 2015, but was beaten by the Brazilian last month, after recovering from a serious injury. It was the first defeat of his career and there are question marks over how the injury and the lengthy layoff might have affected the former champion.
However, Eustaquio thinks that fighting twice in the space of two months gives his an opponent an advantage.
“Actually, if we analyze the science and the different cases between Kairat and me, it’s like he came from a five rounds preparation. He made five rounds with Adriano, meaning he is advanced in terms of training and preparation compared to me. It’s just like in my part it was four week’s notice, but this is my life, this is the thing I love to do. I always train every day. I always look for perfection.”
The speed at which ONE Championship have handed Akhmetov, another fight suggests that a trilogy bout with Moraes has already been penciled in. Could Eustaquio jump straight to the head of the queue by beating the Kazakh at the Jakarta Convention Centre on Saturday? He certainyl thinks so.
“They say if you wanna become the best, you have to beat the best. So maybe if I’m going to beat this guy, I will be in line as one of the best and maybe ONE Championship doesn’t have a choice but to let me have the rematch with Adriano.”
The first time Eustaquio fought Moraes was in 2014. He was submitted in the second round, but believes he is a much better fighter today.
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“It’s been a long time, my first (title) attempt for ONE Championship is like 2014, if I’m not mistaken. Geje this time is different (to) 3 years before. And I’ve been through ups and downs, those downs make me better person by now. So if given the chance for me to be called, I’m willing to take again a rematch with Adriano.”
Eustaquio watched both of Akhmetov’s five-round fights with Moraes. He was impressed, but believes the Kazakh is beatable.
“He’s good. His wrestling is good, but still this is mixed martial arts, everything can happen. Everybody has their own holes. So I can beat this guy.”
In the past, Team Lakay fighters have sometimes struggled against opponents with strong wrestling. Eduard Folayang was powerless to prevent Lowen Tynanes and Kamal Shalorus taking him down and Eustaquio suffered a similar fate against Andrew Leone.
Eustaquio puts this down to the lack of knowledge in Baguio, but believes he and his training partners are catching up fast thanks to the prevalence of online information. In fact, he thinks Team Lakay would have produced multiple champions by now if the technology had come sooner.
“If technology was with us as in the late 90’s or early 2000’s we would have already produced four or five ONE Championship champions.”
It’s a bold claim, but with Folayang owning the lightweight belt and Danny Kingad and Kevin Belingon potentially in line for title shots, there might be something to it. Eustaquio could also point to Honorio Banario’s change of fortunes; after five straight defeats the former featherweight champion has won his last four.
However, title talk is not on Eustaquio’s mind at the moment. He just wants to continue learning his trade and sees success as a inevitable by product.
“Actually, by these days, I’m not chasing the belt, but chasing how to become a perfect mixed martial artist, but I believe all the belts will follow.”
(Follow @JamesGoyder on Twitter)
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