Take one look at Filipino flyweight Geje Eustaquio, and you wouldn’t be able to tell that he is actually one of the smoothest, most talented martial artists in Asia. After all, he doesn’t have the chiseled physique of ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang, or the tenacious aura of bantamweight contender Kevin Belingon.
On the outside, he’s just a regular guy, and just like everyone else, every morning he sets out and goes to work, which just so happens to be inside the confines of a world-class gym in Baguio City, Team Lakay.
On Saturday, 16 September, Eustaquio (9-5) will step back onto the battlefield in a three-round main event bout at ONE: TOTAL VICTORY, opposite former ONE Flyweight World Champion Kairat Akhmetov (23-1) in Indonesia’s Jakarta Convention Center.
“Training is a sacrifice in both time and effort. It is very challenging, but it is the key to victory in my eyes,” said Eustaquio, detailing the importance of a good training camp.
“If we train hard, the bout becomes easier. But before I even step into the cage, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. I train all week for six hours a day, once in the morning and once at night, resting in between.”
While much is sacrificed the way of personal time and physical exertion, Eustaquio maintains that the experience is ultimately enjoyable, which is the secret to any successful undertaking.
“Although the training is tough, I make sure to still have fun. We have to enjoy what we are doing to be successful,” said Eustaquio.
“The moment martial arts is no longer fun for me, that’s a sign that it needs to stop. But I live for martial arts, and I live for competition. Right now, I couldn’t be happier with my progress, I’m going to show a new dimension of skill against Kairat [Akhmetov].”
In 2014, Eustaquio challenged reigning ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes for the inaugural title. It was his first title shot, and although he came up short against Moraes, Eustaquio learned valuable lessons, and vowed that if they ever meet again, that the result would be different. That opportunity, it seems, is fast approaching once more.
However, to earn another shot at ONE Championship gold, Eustaquio will have to overcome the toughest test of his career. Dealing with Akhmetov will require every bit of skill Eustaquio has developed since that loss three years ago. As such, Eustaquio is eager to show off various improvements he’s made to elevate his game.
“As a martial artist, it is important to focus on all areas. I work very hard on improving my grappling and striking, constantly every single day,” said Eustaquio.
“The competition is fierce, and we have to be complete in terms of skill set to be able to remain competitive. My greatest assets are my timing and precision, I don’t believe in wasted energy. I believe timing and precision are even more important than speed and power.”
Like all great warriors, Eustaquio realizes success can never come without aid. A veteran warrior of the famed Team Lakay, Eustaquio relies on his brothers-in-arms to fine tune his technique. At his disposal are some of Asia’s most talented competitors, and among them they each share different strengths and weaknesses.
While there is much to be learned from his more experienced colleagues, Eustaquio explains that he prefers to work with the younger generation to keep himself sharp.
“I prefer to spar and train with our younger Team Lakay members, namely Joshua [Pacio], Stephen [Loman], Cris [Pitpitunge], and Danny [Kingad]. They keep me sharp and motivated. Although I learn from the veterans as well, I think there is still a lot to learn from the younger generation,” said Eustaquio.
“They think of us as mentors and look to us for guidance, but they don’t realize that we also look to them for inspiration and lessons. The entire Team Lakay family is always trying to help each other. We learn and we grow together. That’s what makes this such a special group.”
The most inspirational among them is legendary Filipino martial artist Mark Sangiao, the founder of Team Lakay. Sangiao, Eustaquio says, has had the most impact on his life and career.
“Coach Mark [Sangiao] is more than a mentor, a teacher, and a trainer. He is like a brother to me, a friend I can always depend on,” said Eustaquio.
“He has had a huge impact on my career, and has taught me lots of lessons, not just in the cage, but also outside of it. I will always hold coach Mark in high regard, and I trust him fully with the direction I am headed.”
When Eustaquio steps inside the cage this September, it will be months long of hard work coming down to a single evening of competition at the highest level. Hanging in the balance is possibly a second chance at a world championship.
Right behind him on his walk up to the ONE Championship cage will no doubt be the team he considers his own flesh and blood.
“Outside the gym, Team Lakay is a family. We not only train together, but we also have fun together as well. I go on mountain and dirt bike rides with my brothers Edward [Kelly] and Honorio [Banario], and with the rest of the team we go on trail hikes, beach camps, and treks,” said Eustaquio.
“This is how we relax in Baguio City. We love to spend time in the outdoors and breathe in the cool, clear mountain air. But above all, nothing beats our bonding time in the gym, in our own sweat and determination.”
Whether he wins or he loses, it won’t do much to change his outlook on life. For the man they call “Gravity”, the outcome will never outweigh the journey.
Though 16 September will turn out to be one of the most significant nights of his career, Eustaquio says the hardest work has been done before he even steps into the cage. To him, the bout against Akhmetov is just another day at the office.