One Championship

One Championship: Pinay math professor Angelie Sabanal on how Muay Thai saved her after childhood abandonment

  • Angelie Sabanal faces second One Championship fight on Saturday
  • Filipino found comfort in martial arts after being raised by grandparents
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 9:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 9:46pm

Juggling her job as a college math professor with an MMA career is no easy feat – but that’s not even the most remarkable part of Angelie Sabanal’s rise to success in One Championship.

The Filipino takes on Indonesia’s Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol in Jakarta on November 17 at One: Warrior’s Dream after winning her MMA debut with the Singapore-based outfit in March.

But the 28-year-old Cagayan de Oro native’s tale is one of triumph, having overcome the heartbreak of being abandoned by her parents as a child.

“Growing up without your parents to guide you and support you in all of your decisions is the hardest part of life,” Sabanal said.

After her mother left, Sabanal’s father decided to send her and her brothers to live with their grandparents.

“He said we should stay there because no one would look after us while he was away. I was just seven years old,” Sabanal said.

“I didn’t understand how painful it could be. But eventually, with my parents gone, I had to move on with my life.

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“After that, my relationship with my siblings became closer. We had each other’s back through thick and thin.”

It was in martial arts that Sabanal found comfort and solace. After getting her college diploma, she was introduced to Muay Thai aged 23 by a friend and studied her craft at the Mindanao Ultimate Mixed Martial Arts gym.

“I enrolled in Muay Thai classes purely for fitness and self-defence. It took me five years to finally try to compete in Muay Thai because it never crossed my mind to compete nor become a fighter,” she said.

Sabanal was also busy finishing her dissertation paper for her Master’s degree at the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines, where she is now a professor.

“My priority at that time was to graduate, if not with honours. Although I was really progressing in Muay Thai, my focus was still fixed on getting a diploma,” she said.

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“After I earned my Master’s degree, my coaches were the first ones who congratulated me, but after that, they asked me if I wanted to join the team. It was in 2017 when I accepted the offer. Well, the rest is history.”

Sabanal went on to become a national Muay Thai silver medallist, before making her One Championship and MMA debut in March 2018, beating Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige by unanimous decision.

“I did not know what to do. Do I celebrate or do I cry? I was really surprised because I did not expect the outcome,” she said. “I couldn’t explain the feeling at the exact moment my name was announced as the winner.

“I could not believe it because people were telling me that I should compete in the local scene first before I get my chance in One Championship. Aside from that, my opponent was clearly more experienced. Getting the victory over Rika is like winning a world championship.”

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Sabanal will be the underdog again on Saturday when she fights Southeast Asian Games wushu bronze medallist Gaol.

“I want to win again because I want to give back to my gym and the people who love and support me. I am competing for my country. Everything I do is for all of them and as long as I can do this, I will keep doing this,” Sabanal said.

“I don’t mind if they have no idea who I am before the fight. What matters most is that the fans in Jakarta will remember me after the match. Surely, I will do my best.”

And after all of her success, Sabanal said she and her siblings still owed a great debt of gratitude to their grandparents.

“We are grateful because there are a lot of people who helped us, even without our parents,” she said. “My grandparents played an important role in our lives growing up because they raised us and taught us the values that made us who we are.

“They always tell us that they are very proud of us and what we have achieved. They moulded us into better people.”