March 1, 2024

Thirty-year-old Gina Iniong may be the only female representative of Team Lakay on the global stage, but she is proud to use her status to encourage more female athletes to find their way to “The Home of Martial Arts.”
Iniong of Kapangan, Benguet did not plan to be a role model for women in her country, but now that she is one of the world’s top atomweights, she hopes she can pave the way for more people like her to follow her footsteps.
Iniong began her mixed martial arts career almost by accident when her wushu success led her to a gym in Baguio City.
When she began training, her parents were not thrilled because they thought the mixed martial arts scene was no place for girls.
Their view was not without just cause. As a child, Iniong, along with six sisters, far outnumbered her three brothers, but on the Team Lakay mats, she was in the minority. However, that was no barrier to her growth, and her mother and father soon came around when they saw their daughter’s talent.
“I am fortunate to be in this position and I am very proud that I started here, that I developed here, and this where I got a break,” she said. “From the beginning, (my male teammates) have been nothing but a blessing.”
In fact, the small number of female training partners was arguably a benefit for her evolution into one of the toughest competitors in the ONE women’s atomweight roster.
With just a few of them in the gym, the women were encouraged to spar with their bigger, stronger teammates.
“In training, sometimes I spar with men and I’m getting used to facing stronger athletes,” Iniong says, naming Team Lakay’s Estrada Dong-as and Edilberto “Scooby” Coquia Jr. as her current sparring partners.
At first, Team Lakay chairman Mark Sangiao was her wushu coach at the University of the Cordilleras where she had earned a scholarship and was studying to become a policewoman, which she hoped would help her family lead a better life. However, when he saw her potential, he encouraged her to try a new sport as a way to achieve the same goal.
She made her debut in February 2010 on a local show, and after a win by first-round submission, she was on her way to the top.
It was not always easy for Iniong, but while some of her contemporaries stepped away when they hit some bumps along the road at a time when mixed martial arts was not as popular as it is now, she stayed the course.
The difference, she says, is the guidance she had.
“There are a lot of ladies who are into mixed martial arts but they haven’t found the right coach and the right gym to train them, and that’s why they struggle to push their way up,” the six-time national wushu champion said.
Iniong’s efforts were rewarded when she signed with ONE in 2017. She quickly became one of its most popular competitors. Thanks to her powerful striking, aggressive grappling, and willingness to take on the toughest opponents any time.
“Right now, we’re preparing some athletes to follow my footsteps,” she said. – ONE release