By Dan Paulo Errazo
Team Lakay’s 2018 can be summarized as a dominant year for the humble La Trinidad, Benguet gym. In this year alone, they were able to capture four world titles under the ONE Championship banner, which is unheard of.
Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio was the first to bring home a world title, when he became the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Champion at ONE: Pinnacle of Power in Macau.
In September, Joshua “The Passion” Pacio faced off against Yoshitaka Naito for the second time and bagged the ONE Strawweight World Title at ONE: Conquest for Heroes.
Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon’s turn came next in the main event of ONE: Heart of the Lion in Singapore. It was a cliffhanger but “The Silencer” came out on top after a tough bout against Bibiano Fernandes.
Capping the year off on last November at ONE: Conquest of Champions, Eduard “Landslide” Folayang became a two-time ONE Lightweight World Champion after a well-deserved unanimous decision victory over Singapore’s Amir Khan.
Although Eustaquio, Pacio, and Folayang had certainly turned in impressive performances this year, it was Belingon who was perceived by most to have been most dominant over the past 12 months.
The Baguio City native first encountered Fernandes back in January 2016 at ONE: Dynasty of Champions in China, where the Team Lakay representative tapped out after the Brazilian was able to secure a guillotine choke hold.
Despite the loss, Belingon felt even more motivated and poured in extra hours in their gym to improve his skills.
His hard work paid off when he won five straight bouts, including an scintillating TKO win over American Andrew Leone. Belingon added a permanent clip to his highlight reel with a powerful spinning back-kick that made the audience cringe as if they were on the receiving end.
Many thought that his performance over Leone would finally earn him a world title shot against Fernandes, however the Brazilian was injured at the time and was in no condition to defend his title.
Belingon remained patient. He respected ONE’s decision to push the Fernandes bout back. But instead of sitting on the sidelines, “The Silencer” accepted a superfight with Australia’s Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen for the ONE Interim Bantamweight World Title.
In the end however, Belingon once again emerged victorious, scoring a unanimous decision over Nguyen. Not long after that, the Fernandes rematch was finally announced.
Belingon did not waste any time making preparations for the bout. After all, it was the biggest match of his career. Even though Belingon was on an unprecedented six bout win streak, he was still considered the underdog against Fernandes, who had been undefeated since 2011 and remains to this day the longest reigning ONE Bantamweight World Title holder.
When the bout against Fernandes finally rolled around, Belingon made sure to put in his best performance yet. He let all of his most powerful strikes loose, controlled the standup clashes and even held his own against Fernandes in the grappling arena. The result was a close split decision victory that tipped in the Filipino’s favor.
It wasn’t his most dominant performance, but that had more to do with Fernandes’ own great performance over five gruelling rounds. But Belingon made sure history would not repeat itself with a showcase of his much improved grappling skills, allowing him to escape several of Fernandes’ submission attempts.
In the end, Belingon was able to unify the bantamweight titles and put an end to Fernandes’ unbeaten streak in ONE Championship.
All of Belingon’s achievements across the past 12 months have earned him ONE Championship’s 2018 Warrior of the Year award, beating out other top contenders which included Myanmar’s Aung La N Sang, China’s Xiong Jing Nan, Japan’s Shinya Aoki, and fellow Team Lakay member Eduard Folayang.
2019 has yet to hit, but three of Belingon’s Team Lakay brothers already have title defenses scheduled in the first quarter of the year. Belingon has yet to have a bout announced, but many fans and observers expect that a trilogy bout with Fernandes could be in the cards.
But given that no official announcement has been made as of yet, Belingon will again be patient and train hard until the call of duty arrives.