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Gina Iniong pays tribute to coach ahead of ONE Championship return

Filipina star says she’s indebted to the work of her coach for her successes in the cage so far

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Stev Bonhage / ONE Championship

Gina Iniong admits she never really meant to become a martial artist.

“It was just something to keep me busy at the time,” she told ONE Championship.

“But the more I trained, the better I became. It felt like I was meant to be a martial artist, somehow. Every time I trained, I was more and more comfortable with it.”

That was back when she was 17 years of age. Now she’s a 28-year-old professional martial artist who plies her trade with Asia’s biggest organisation, ONE.

During her high school days Iniong discovered an aptitude for the national martial art of wushu, and that led to her joining the pre-eminent team in the nation, Team Lakay, where she sharpened her skills under the tutelage of head coach Mark Sangiao, who eventually convinced her that her martial arts future lied in the cage.

“When coach Mark saw me train, he helped me to realise that martial arts is what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.

“He saw the potential in me, and encouraged me to start competing.”

Sangiao’s faith in his young prospect was well-placed. Iniong claimed six national wushu titles in the Philippines and built a perfect record of 14-0 before making the switch to the cage.

Iniong’s successes continued as she won four of her first six bouts, including a notable win over Mei Yamaguchi in March 2014.

Iniong says her rise is all down to the man who convinced her to step into the cage – Sangiao.

“I have never been a confident person. I have always been shy. I am quiet and reserved, and my personality is a little laid back. But when it comes to martial arts, I have a fierce side to me. Coach Mark has seen that, and he continues to motivate me to work hard to reach the top,” she said.

“I have to keep training, to keep my edge. I know I can be a world champion. I know that in my heart, so I have to work very hard to achieve that dream. If I can keep getting better, and keep winning, I know I will reach the top sooner or later.”

Iniong returns to action against Jenny Huang at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR in Manila and hopes that a strong performance can push her closer to her dream of competing for the ONE Atomweight World Title currently held by Angela Lee.

“It would be an honor for me to compete for the world title in the near future,” she said.

“I know coach Mark will be right there by my side, motivating me again, if I get that call. He has always been incredibly supportive. [He is] more than just a coach to me; he is like a second father to me, and he really cares about his students very much.”

Interview by ONE Championship. Story by Simon Head.

Freelance sports writer and MMA reporter with 19 years’ experience in the UK's national media covering major sporting events including UFC world title fights, Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Championships, Grand National and the FA Cup Final.

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