When Sambo was developed by a group of Russian soldiers in the 1920s, they had one goal in mind: to take the most effective parts of other martial arts, and combine them into one coherent (and powerful) martial art of their own. It wouldn't be too hard to imagine a Sambo fighter now to be like the men who started it: cold, hard, intense men made of iron and built like brick walls, only interested in training, fighting, and beating the tar out of their opponents on the mat.
SEA Games 2019 Sambo gold medalist Mark Striegl isn't anything like that.
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On any day, the Fil-Am is naturally easy, waving hello and goodbye to everyone in the room. He leans back and stretches out when he sits down, usually losing himself in a game on his phone when there isn't anything else happening around. He goes on to speak with ABS-CBN Lifestyle fondly, talking about his beginnings in martial arts: "I started freestyle wrestling when I was seven years old. My older brother Frank wrestled and also did some martial arts. Like any younger brother, you copy your older brother, so I copied him, and I just took it from there."
Mark's parents, a pair of international school teachers based in Tokyo, where he grew up, naturally worried about him when he began. They couldn't paint their little boy trying to keep up with other kids on a mat, getting thrown around and throwing other kids around.
Yet Mark grew well and strong into the sport: "Ten years later, I walked into an MMA dojo in Japan in my senior year of high school, and decided to give it a chance. I was bored in the summer, and was just looking for something to do with my friends, so we walked into an MMA dojo, and I realized I was pretty good at it!"
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He's kept it up since then, making his professional debut in mixed martial arts in California in 2009. He's since then kept up a record of 18 wins and 2 losses, and won the URCC Global Featherweight Champion title in 2018, which, he says, is one of his biggest accomplishments so far.
His career with Sambo, which isn't as long, is just as illustrious, though: "I was only recruited a year ago, and it was a kind of baptism by fire by being thrown into the mix with the SEA Games. My biggest achievement right now in Sambo would be the SEA Games gold (medal)."
Starting a career on as high a note as that can make it seem hard to think of what goals he can reach for down the road, but Mark knows where to look already—he hopes to win a Sambo world title, and more MMA world titles in the future.
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In Mark's own words, MMA and Sambo are a "young man's games," and at 31 and with a decade of fighting under his belt already, Mark knows that "I have a few more years in my physical prime before I walk away from the sport and move on to something else in my life. I just want to fulfill my potential and see how far I could take it, then I'll probably open up a bar and get fat!"
Being with his family isn't far from his mind, either. His training takes him to Quezon City, hours away from his parents, as well as his wife and son, who all live all the way up north in Baguio City. Despite the distance, he still has plenty of support from them: "My mom is my biggest supporter, and my wife's number two. She used to play volleyball here in Manila, at the Ateneo, so she understands the grind of sports and the sacrifices that have to be made, and understands that my training is here in Manila. She's great!"
With great support comes great worrying, however, and both Mark's mother and his wife still hold their rankings there, but they don't worry as much as they used to. "(My wife) still worries, of course, when she's there. She actually drinks at the fights to calm her nerves, but she knows that I train hard, and, like my parents, they know that if I train hard and I'm well-prepared, then I'll be fine."
Just like his parents, too, Mark can't help but laugh a bit when joked about his son Maxi following in his fighter footsteps. "Oh no, I do not want my son to follow in my footsteps. I'll teach him, of course. I'll teach him how to defend himself, but as far as following my footsteps and getting punched on a daily basis? I don't want that for him. It's a crazy grind. I want him to have a more chill life," he says.
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Produced by Camille Santiago | Photography by Vyn Radovan | Grooming by Muriel Vega Perez and Team MVP | Hair by Francis Guintu of Aveda Philippines | Styling by Aldrin Ramos | Shot on location at WeWork Philippines, Menarco Tower, BGC | Special thanks to Trix Catly, WeWork Philippines, Aveda, and Teriyaki Boy