Marianas Variety

Last updateSat, 16 Dec 2017 12am






    Saturday, December 16, 2017-5:53:00A.M.






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An Exclusive Interview with Keli Mangloña

FORMER Trench Tech stalwart and Tinian native Keli “Magalahi” Mangloña was just 19 years old when he won his first MMA title.

He defeated Donnie Fejerang and Syl Teregeyo in the same evening to become the Gorilla Warfare MMA 2009 Middleweight Grand Prix Tournament Champion. In doing so, Mangloña also became the Marianas region’s first professional mixed martial arts middleweight champion.

Keli Manglona oversees grappling technique by Trench Tech members Josephine Togawa and Alverick Alvarez.

A year later, Mangloña successfully defended his title against Cody Cruz of Guam.

Now 27, Mangloña is a proud family man and nearly nine-year member of the United States Air Force. He had enlisted just one year prior to winning his title. With a professional record of 3-1 and 1-0 as an amateur, Mangloña took a hiatus from MMA to focus on his military career and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition.

He recently attained the rank of Brown Belt in BJJ under Prof. Giva “The Arm Collector” Santana (4th Degree Black Belt) and Andrew Gardineer (1st Degree Black Belt) of De Boa BJJ Academy in Arizona.

Mangloña is a veteran of 72 BJJ competitions and has medaled in 65 of them. His winning of the North American Grappling Association tournament championship ranks among his most prestigious wins.

Last November, while visiting his CNMI family for the holidays, Mangloña also made time to host a small jiu-jitsu clinic for Trench Tech students on Saipan.

Much like fellow TT alum Frank “The Crank” Camacho, Mangloña relished the opportunity to give back to the gym and community that had given so much to him when he began his own martial arts journey.

MV: CNMI MMA pioneer Cuki Alvarez has mentored many of the region’s top talents throughout the years. Talk about your training history with Cuki and Trench Tech.

K: Growing up on Tinian was very challenging. If you had a dream, it was very easy to give up on or stray away from due to the lack of resources. After my first MMA coach moved back to Guam, finding people to train with on Tinian was very difficult. Regardless, I decided that I would continue to train, because it was a great way for me to relieve the stresses of being a teenager in high school. One day I contacted Cuki and asked if I could come and train at his gym whenever I was on Saipan. He welcomed me with open arms, but to do this I figured I had to make money to pay for my fairy trips to Saipan.

I started going around Tinian and cutting grass for cash. I would make enough to at least go to Saipan twice every three months. My expenses usually consisted of food and lodging. Then I would return to Tinian and review the techniques I had learned from the guys at Trench Tech with my brother and cousins. Everyone at TT was always very nice and welcoming. I loved it there. Eventually, I fought in my first amateur MMA fight in 2007 and was hooked on competing. When I started training in 2005, Cuki and a few others changed my life forever. The others know who they are. I will forever be grateful to them. Whenever I am home, I always make it a priority to go and train at TT and try to give back any way I can.

MV: Guam veteran Ryan Bigler, who was a much more experienced BJJ player and MMA fighter at the time, handed you your first loss years ago. Did that motivate you to become better at BJJ and pursue your current path?

K: I never like to lose, but it happened. Although the experience wasn’t what I planned for, I used it to positively improve my entire martial arts perspective. It definitely motivated me to seriously reevaluate my life if I wanted to be successful in the sport. I would say it helped out for the better.

MV: You previously trained with the world renown Wand Fight Team, known for legendary Pride FC champion Wanderlei Silva. What was that experience like?

K: Having the opportunity to train and fight for Wand Fight Team was a surreal experience I would not trade for anything. I got to meet and train with a lot of great fighters from all over the world. Fighters would visit Wand Fight Team, and join in on class sessions for months at a time. The facility was very nice! What I liked most about the facility was the high altitude chamber. When I would train in there I would feel like the Dragon Ball Z characters, going into their hyperbolic time chamber and coming out stronger. Learning and training with Wanderlei was always a great time. He was always a very nice person on and off the mats.

MV: You also trained at another world class gym in Arizona’s MMA Lab. What was it like training with former UFC champ Benson Henderson and Guam’s first UFC fighter Jon Tuck?

K: I trained at the MMA Lab for about two years. I was the only active duty member on the MMA Lab Elite Fight Team. Jon Tuck was living in AZ at the time and invited me to train at the MMA Lab, which was very humbling. Being around the likes of Benson, Tuck and other elite fighters was very motivating. I was exposed to some of the highest levels in MMA and improved my game further than I could fathom. Benson was very motivating and was such a great guy to be around. The energy he brought on and off the mats was very positive.

Tinian’s Keli Manglona instructs Trench Tech students in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  Photos by Vicente “Ben” Salas II

MV: What are your competition plans for BJJ and MMA? Any big tournaments or events you have your sights set on?

K: I will be stationed in South Korea in 2017 and plan on focusing more on my MMA career in the Asian and Pacific regions. I will still compete in jiu-jitsu tournaments to test and find the areas I need to improve when I am not getting ready for an MMA fight. I will also be a lot closer to home and hope to return and showcase the things I have been working on in MMA fights, or BJJ tournaments and seminars.

MV: Do you plan to pursue a full time career in MMA or BJJ after the military?

K: I love serving my country and plan on retiring from the military, but will continue to fight in MMA and compete in BJJ as much as I can while in service. MMA and BJJ is my lifestyle and will always be a part of me.

MV: Where do you see yourself in the long run with regards to your island community? Do you see yourself one day opening up a BJJ/MMA academy on Tinian and molding future fighters?

K: Once I fulfill my 20 years of service in the military and retire, I do plan on opening a MMA/BJJ academy on Tinian. I would like to mold future MMA fighters and BJJ practitioners, but my sole purpose for opening an academy is really to help people of all age groups become better people in society and their communities.

MV: My understanding is that BJJ is a family affair for you. Please share a little about this.

I have been married to my wife Kaila for 5 years now. We have two beautiful children—a daughter, Anella, 4; and a 3 year old son, Manasseh. My Wife started training BJJ in December of 2015. She is a 2nd degree White Belt. She won the Gold medal for her division at the 2016 Arizona Cope Bella (All women BJJ Tournament).

Our kids are enrolled in De Boa Jiu-Jitsu Academy’s Toddler BJJ program. They learn and play games that will develop skills that are related to BJJ and that can be applied on and off the mats. I am a believer of letting things happen organically. If my wife and children decide they do not want to continue the art of Jiu-Jitsu, I will support their decisions. To reach one’s full potential, one must be passionate about what it is they are doing.

MV: Give your own personal viewpoint on the benefits of MMA and BJJ in our local community and how it can elevate our opportunities in the world. For example, Saipan’s Clinton Dela Cruz recently became the first from the CNMI to attain his BJJ Black belt and that helped him launch other life and career opportunities.

K: I yearn to become a better person for my family, community, and society by competing and challenging myself, because there is always room for improvement.

There is an amazing BJJ documentary called Jiu-Jitsu: A Way of Life which I have watched at least 30 times. It really inspired me and sums up my passion and mission for spreading BJJ and MMA in life. There are so many pros for training that I would probably have to send you my paper I did for a college class just to get the point across.

Clinton becoming the first BJJ Black belt from the CNMI is an amazing feat! It just validates once again that anyone from the Marianas can become anything they want. I want people I cross paths with to understand that the only limitations we have are the ones we make, and they should never be scared to dare, try, and fail. All these things will always be a part of our lives, but I believe that if we apply ourselves consistently and be persistent we can break barriers and make history like Clinton has done. This is truly my perspective on why I train and compete in MMA and BJJ now.

MV: Any other activities/community hobbies you are passionate about besides MMA and BJJ?.

K: I really just love being with my family and spending time with them. I love watching my kids grow and teaching them things my wife and I never even knew about ourselves.