The Banario brothers have combined for a 13-2 record.
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in a multi-part series highlighting brotherly connections in MMA.
Baguio is the MMA heartland of the Philippines. Nestled between mountains in the northern part of the country, the city has produced a staggeringly high percentage of the top Pinoy fighters, including Universal Reality Combat Championship titleholders Mark Sangiao, Eduard Folayang, Dave Galera, Kevin Belingon and Rey Docyogen.
For some, the martial arts roots run deeper. One famous fighting family from Baguio is the Banarios, who boast three mixed martial artists within their ranks.
Honorio Banario is the best-known of the three, having beaten Eric Kelly in a “Battle of Baguio” in February to become the inaugural One Fighting Championship featherweight titleholder. However, younger siblings Dario Banario and Harold Banario are up-and-coming unbeaten fighters who appear to be on track to emulate his achievements.
Harold, the youngest of the brothers at 19, is a bantamweight with a 2-0 record. His wins came at local events in 2012 which were organized by Lakay MMA, where all three Banarios train under the tutelage of legendary Filipino coach Mark Sangiao. Dario is a couple of years older and, like Harold, competes at 135 pounds. His tally stands at 3-0 after wins inside the URCC and Pacific Xtreme Combat promotions, the most recent of which came courtesy of a unanimous decision victory over Joseph Mercado in February.
Given how much has happened to Honorio of late, it is easy to forget that he is just 23 years old. He owns the URCC’s lightweight title and became the first One FC featherweight champion after beating Kelly, only to surrender the strap to Japanese veteran Koji Oishi in his first title defense a few months later. There are seasoned veterans who have had less eventful careers than Honorio; despite the recent disappointment of losing a fight in the Philippines for the first time, he remains the best featherweight the country has ever produced. It was Honorio who first discovered MMA and effectively blazed the trail his two younger brothers followed, but his decision to become a fighter is owed more to the influence of movie stars than actual athletes.
“I started learning martial arts when I was 16 years old because I was inspired by Bruce Lee and Jet Li,” he told Sherdog.com. “I start training MMA in 2009, but before that, I was fighting in muay Thai, kickboxing, boxing and wushu.”
While Honorio sought to emulate the exploits of two kung fu legends from Hong Kong, Harold did not have to look too far from home to find a hero of his own.
“We are all very proud of Honorio as a fighter and proud that the first ever One FC featherweight world champion came from our family,” he said. “Honorio also graduated from college as an athlete, and I wanted to be like that; that’s why I’m studying at [the] University of the Cordilleras.”
Initially, Honorio’s choice to compete in MMA met with some resistance from his parents, who were reluctant to see their son pursue a career which had the potential to lead to serious injury.
“My parents thought that if I continued fighting I would get hurt, but I told them that getting hurt is a part of being a fighter,” he said. “I get hurt every time I fight. Now my parents really support me in my career.”
Honorio’s ability to overcome those initial objections helped clear a path for his brothers.
“Our parents are very proud that we are excelling in this sport and happy that when we win some money from our fights we are able to help them with it,” Dario said.
All three Banarios have combined their fighting careers with their studies -- a trait which is common among Lakay MMA fighters.
Harold is currently an architecture student at the University of the Cordilleras, following in the footsteps of Docyogen, who completed the same course at the same campus. Honorio holds a degree in criminology -- the same subject in which Lakay MMA teammates Sangiao and Belingon graduated -- from the Cordillera Career Development College and claims he would have become a police officer had he not pursued a career in martial arts. A career in law enforcement remains on the backburner for Honorio, who is a full-time fighter and currently serves as an MMA instructor in Kuala Lumpur. Dario, by contrast, has actually pursued a career in keeping with his academic qualifications, but his work as a seed salesman takes him all over the region and makes it difficult to train regularly.
Criminology, agriculture and architecture are a diverse range of subjects, but the one common interest that unites the Banario brothers is their love of fighting. When it comes to actual MMA competition, they are all extremely supportive of one another, although, according to Honorio, the sibling rivalry can make for some intense training sessions.
“I am in Malaysia at the moment,” he said, “but when we are in Baguio, we all train together at Team Lakay under coach Mark Sangiao, and we are definitely very competitive when we are rolling and sparring together.”
Honorio’s status as a top featherweight contender and former champion of Asia’s biggest MMA organization means his fights carry a much higher profile than those of his brothers. However, he admits he gets more agitated watching his siblings compete than when he steps into the cage himself.
“When I fight, I don’t feel nervousness,” Honorio said, “but when I see my brothers fighting, I feel nervous that something bad might happen to them; but I know they know what they are doing, so I don’t worry too much.”
Harold concedes that having an older brother who has already reached the pinnacle of Asian MMA has given him even more impetus to pursue his own ambitions.
“Everybody is dreaming and hoping to be the best MMA fighter in Asia and the whole world,” he said, “and that is my dream -- that someday I will be a One FC fighter and champion like my brother.”
The birth of MMA in Baguio can be roughly traced back to 2001, when Sangiao returned to the city after winning a gold medal in wushu at the Southeast Asian Games and began cross-training with a friend who had a background in jiu-jitsu. He made his professional debut in 2003, and by the time he finished fighting six years later, he had amassed a professional record of 7-2. It is a testament to Sangiao’s commitment to Lakay MMA that he decided to put his career on hold while in his prime to concentrate on coaching.
Lakay MMA adheres to a mantra that “champions are not born, they are made,” and its members are renowned for their stamina, work rate and non-stop aggression. In an environment of grueling mountain runs and high-intensity sparring sessions, the Banario brothers forged their fighting careers. Sangiao has overseen their development and believes the best is yet to come from the trio.
“Regarding Dario and Harold, yes, I think they have both the potential to be champions like Honorio,” he said. “However, for now, Dario has his day job and is concentrating on that, but Harold is the one that I can see who could be a champion in the making. He just needs more training and exposure and he will be good.”
Sangiao expects all his students to adopt the Lakay MMA style, which involves putting constant pressure on opponents; the high altitude provided by the mountains of Baguio, which have played host to a number of boxing great Manny Pacquiao’s training camps, helps give them the necessary stamina to do so. Results for the team have been mixed of late, as several fighters have suffered disappointing defeats in PXC and One FC. However, Lakay MMA continues to dominate the Filipino MMA scene. Dave Galera recently became the team’s fifth URCC champion by capturing the promotion’s 139-pound title -- the same belt Sangiao once held.
Honorio won his 159-pound URCC championship in April 2011, when he beat Angelito Manguray with a typical Lakay MMA effort. He submitted the previously undefeated champion with a rear-naked choke nearly nine minutes into a taxing second round, the result providing proof of the value in undergoing a brutal training regimen at altitude. In 10 career bouts, Honorio has never gone the distance, and Sangiao expects him to come back stronger following his defeat to Oishi.
“I think Honorio has a lot of potential to improve and win his belt back,” Sangiao said. “He is still young, and I can still see the fire and passion in his eyes to fight and get the belt back.”
The debate over which sibling is the best can be sensitive for any athletic family, but Danario and Harold have no doubt where they stand in the Banario pecking order.
“Our elder brother -- he is the best,” they said simultaneously.
Honorio acknowledges that his experience and accomplishments outshine those of his younger brothers, but he believes it is only a matter of time until either Dario or Harold overtakes him.
“Now, the best Banario is me, but one day they will surpass me,” he said. “I am 100 percent sure that if they focus in training and have self-discipline they will become champions.”