It’s not everyday you meet a UFC fighter, let alone the first Filipino UFC fighter from the Zuffa era. I was able to meet, train with, interview, and hang out with Dave “The Scarecrow” Galera, and it was a unique experience to say the least.
I was in Baguio on a family vacation recently and made it a point to drop by the famed Team Lakay gym. Luckily, my visit happened to be Galera’s last day of his hard training before his UFC debut in Singapore the following week.
Getting to meet Dave at their Team Lakay gym in La Trinidad was terrific. I got to talk to him and learn about his upbringing. He was very down to earth, especially given the fact that he was a week away from making history.
About his upbringing
Dave was born in the US but is technically the first Filipino national to be signed by the UFC (Zuffa). I have to mention the “Zuffa era ” because Filipino Onassis Parungao fought in one of the very first UFC events back in 1995, before Zuffa purchased the UFC.
Despite his US roots, he grew up in Baguio–the same place where his parents were born and raised–up until he finished high school. He returned to the US to look for work, taking up BJJ and earning his blue belt in the process. After a couple of years, he returned to Baguio, where he’d find his MMA calling in Team Lakay.
“The Scarecrow” joined the Mark Sangiao-led gym simply to get fit, but he quickly excelled in it. In less than two years, he went pro and eventually won the URCC featherweight title.
His road to the UFC
Galera told me that the UFC’s call came as a surprise.
With UFC expanding into Asia, the promotion’s officials asked MMA gyms in the Philippines to submit the names of their best fighters, according to Galera. After the UFC got these names, they did their scouting, narrowing the list down to just a few fighters–Galera was one of them. Another was his team mate Roldan Sangcha-an, whom Dave said would’ve been on the same card in Singapore if only the UFC had found him an opponent in time.
Lo and behold, only Dave was called to the Octagon.
“The Scarecrow” also revealed that he always felt that his mentor Eduard Folayang would be the first to sign with the UFC, and that Kevin Belingon had long been targeted by the American promotion, but his contract with ONE FC prevented him from jumping ship.
Meeting Mark Sangiao
During my visit, I also had the pleasure of meeting the mastermind behind Team Lakay’s success, coach Mark Sangiao. He was likewise down to earth despite being the coach of one of Asia’s best MMA teams.
Coach Sangiao drove myself, Galera and team mates Delfin Nawen and Philip Dimecillo farther up the mountains. He then dropped off the fighters at the bottom of a hill, down a narrow road. There, the fighters warmed up before running 10 kilometers up and down the hills.
I was able to chat with coach Sangiao, and it was interesting to get his thoughts on how things have gone for him and his team. He said that he never could’ve imagined that Team Lakay would be making waves in the UFC and ONE FC the way it is today. He said that Team Lakay was something he pursued simply because it was his passion.
It was somewhat surreal to be talking to (and jogging with) coach Sangiao. His team was spearheading Philippine MMA’s international campaign, but for him, it was just another day at the office.
I’m thankful I didn’t have to run the entire 10k route as the fighters, because I doubt I would’ve lasted. I ran a portion of the trail with coach Sangiao, and the hills and high altitude had me huffing and puffing in no time.
The fighters soldiered through it, as expected. After the 10k run, they did four rounds of uphill sprints and finished off with simulated striking sparring. That was the morning training; later that evening, they’d have full contact training.
After the morning workout, we headed back to the gym and had lunch. I was more than happy to break bread with such dedicated athletes and learn more about their lives.
I capped off my visit to Team Lakay by doing a quick video interview Dave Galera. Here’s the finished product:
I just want to thank Dave Galera, coach Mark Sangiao, and the entire Team Lakay for their hospitality. More power to your team!