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MANILA, Philippines – From glorious triumphs inside the cage to heartbreaking turn of events, it can be said that 2015 is one for the books, with the Philippines shining in the world of mixed martial arts (MMA).
A Filipino-American fighter managed to walk away with a world title around his waist this year despite the controversy of facing another short-notice opponent, while another one took an exit from the sport in a story-book ending.
2015 was a momentous year for Philippine MMA as the archipelago rolled out a red carpet for the sport’s most-renowned organization, but the local scene was also muddled with grief over the passing of a well-loved Pinoy combatant.
Through it all, Rappler lists down the top 10 moments that left an indelible niche in Philippine MMA in 2015.
10. UFC’s first Philippine event
After numerous attempts to stage a Philippine event in 4 years, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) announced in January that the world’s premier MMA promotion would host its first fight card in the country dubbed “Fight Night 66” on May 16.
The UFC has long held interest in the Philippines, with plans for “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series to be staged in the country being talked about as early as 2011.
In addition, the Philippines had been listed as one of UFC’s target markets for an overseas show.
UFC’s maiden showcase in the Philippines was headlined by a featherweight super-fight between former UFC lightweight titlist Frankie Edgar and two-division champion Urijah Faber.
Edgar solidified his status as the next contender for the featherweight championship by lopsidedly outpointing Faber via unanimous decision with 3 identical marks of 50-45.
Along with the action-packed affair, the Las Vegas-based company catered a festive fight week as its top fighters were in attendance for UFC Fight Night 66 such as flyweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson, Miesha Tate, Alistair Overeem and Bryan Caraway.
With the solid debut at the box office and an energetic crowd once the event kicked off, UFC executive Kenneth Berger confided to Rappler that the organization is likely to make a return to the Philippines.
9. PXC partners with Solaire
Pacific Xtreme Combat (PXC) is moving to its new home in the Philippines as the Guam-based MMA promotion signed a lucrative deal with Solaire Resort and Casino, a 5-star hotel that will host 4 of its fight cards in 2016 at its luxurious Grand Ballroom with a seating capacity of 1,258 including an elevated premium section.
Elevating its loyal audience’s viewing experience by upgrading to a world-class location, PXC plans to go all out next year by announcing 4 event dates to be staged at Solaire’s state-of-the-art ballroom: January 16, April 2, July 6, and November 5.
PXC has staged 14 of its last 27 cards in Manila, and since its first Philippine venture in June 2011, it has been a staple of the local MMA scene, spawning talented Filipino contenders like Crisanto Pitpitunge, Jenel Lausa, Mark Striegl, Ale Cali, Glen Ranillo, and Rolando Gabriel Dy.
The organization likewise served as the footstool for MMA competitors such as Roldan Sangcha-an, Jon Tuck, Hyun Gyu Lim, Dustin Kimura, Louis Smolka, and Michinori Tanaka to be noticed by the UFC.
8. Pitpitunge, Dy miss weight for PXC titles
Homegrown talents Crisanto Pitpitunge and Rolando Gabriel Dy received world title opportunities on the international stage in June, but both men were barred from vying for the silver-plated straps as they did not meet the contracted weight limits.
Pitpitunge tipped the scales at 126 pounds for his 5-round clash versus PXC flyweight champion Alvin Cacdac, while Dy was a half-pound over the bantamweight border of 135 pounds for his rematch against titleholder Kyle Aguon.
Despite the weigh-in woes of the two combatants, their respective matches pushed through as non-title contests.
Pitpitunge shut the lights off on Cacdac in the first round with a well-timed overhand right and a follow-up right hook to the temple, but Dy fell short by yielding to Aguon via split decision.
7. Lausa knocks out Montilla with one punch
Jenel Lausa earned an elusive crack at the 125-pound weight class’ top prize by avenging his 2013 decision loss to Ernesto Montilla Jr. in their June rematch.
Lausa knocked out Montilla with a thunderous left hook in the last second of the first round.
As a reward, Lausa locks horns with Pitpitunge for the available PXC flyweight belt, which was rendered vacant in June when Cacdac likewise missed weight in his title tilt versus the latter and was stripped of the title.
Lausa and Pitpitunge will square off against each other on January 16, 2016 in the main event of PXC 51, which is the promotion’s first event at Solaire Resort and Casino’s Grand Ballroom in Parañaque City.
6. Australian foe derails Striegl’s title dream
Reece McLaren, who replaced fellow Australian fighter Jordan Lucas on two weeks notice, pulled off a major upset in his ONE Championship debut by submitting Filipino-American sensation Mark Striegl with a rear-naked choke in the co-headliner of the “Spirit of Champions” card in December.
The 24-year-old native of Toowoomba, Queensland overcame a series of takedowns and a second-round knockdown against the highly-favored Striegl, but he methodically chipped away at his opponent with stinging leg kicks.
As his cage counterpart appeared to lose steam in the final frame, McLaren countered a weary takedown attempt in the third round with solid elbows before he advanced to Striegl’s back to latch on a rear-naked choke at the 3:33 mark of the third round.
It is also the second submission setback of Striegl, who suffered his first prizefighting loss versus Jang Yong Kim in September 2013 for the vacant PXC featherweight title.
5. Eric Kelly’s lackluster return to ONE FC cage
After 15 months on the sidelines due to a contract dispute with ONE, Eric Kelly made a successful return inside the ONE Championship cage by attaining a controversial victory over Japan’s Hiroshige Tanaka this past October.
Even though Tanaka pacified his opponent’s stand-up leverage in the last two rounds, Kelly managed to walk away with a debatable unanimous decision as the featherweight bout was scored in its entirety and not on round-by-round basis.
Kelly was in control of the entire first frame, where he utilized his striking arsenal from heavy high kicks to lunging right straights before converting a takedown courtesy of Judo hip toss after losing the grip on his Japanese foe’s head for a guillotine choke.
However, Tanaka shifted the momentum on his side in the second canto, where he countered with a solid right hook that completely rocked the Filipino before attaining a belly-to-belly takedown.
Tanaka punctuated the third and final round by getting another takedown and quickly sinking in hooks for a rear-naked choke, but Kelly was saved by the bell.
4. Rise of Eugene Toquero
Eugene Toquero was perhaps the most active Filipino prizefighter in 2015, having booked in 3 matches this year.
Although it was not a clean sweep for him, Toquero started his year with a bang as he took care of Indonesian flyweight Brianata Rosadhi with a volley of vicious elbows to accomplish a first-round stoppage in April.
After bowing down to Asuka “Riku Shibuya” Mikami via unanimous decision in October, Toquero bounced back on a strong note by trouncing Li Wei Bin two months later.
Toquero mauled the Chinese fighter with precision strikes, forcing Li to quit on his stool before the third round.
3. Death of Ale Cali
The entire Philippine MMA community mourned the sudden and tragic demise of one-time PXC flyweight champion Ale Cali.
Cali, 25, was shot in the head by an unidentified gunman in Ulas, Davao City at around 10:30 am on August 16.
According to an eyewitness account, the victim was shot 3 times by an assailant wearing a helmet, who managed to exit fast towards the Toril area of Davao City on a Honda Wave motorcycle with a temporary plate number.
The account also stated that Cali was alighting from his vehicle when he was approached by the suspect, who then pulled the trigger of an assumed caliber .45 pistol at the back of his head.
The Davao City Police Department has yet to determine the motive behind Cali’s murder.
2. Brandon Vera wins first-ever ONE FC heavyweight title
Ex-UFC superstar Brandon Vera made history as the first fighter to win the ONE heavyweight championship by knocking out Paul Cheng in the headliner of this month’s “Spirit of Champions” event.
There was no feeling-out process for Vera, who finished the job in just 26 seconds by dropping Cheng to a knee with a short left hand before clobbering a brutal head kick to the chin.
The title-winning performance was shrouded by controversy as Cheng replaced the Fil-Am stalwart’s original opponent Chi Lewis Parry, who was removed from the bout after reportedly failing to submit his medical records and deciding not to board his scheduled flight on December 8.
Parry denied the claim of ONE, asserting that the organization is misleading the general public.
According to ONE’s head honcho Victor Cui, he and matchmaker Matt Hume have yet to sit down and discuss the course of action with Parry.
1. Mark Muñoz wins farewell fight
“The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Mark Muñoz turned back the clock to dominate young English middleweight Luke Barnatt in his farewell fight at UFC Fight Night 66 on May 16.
Although he was coming off 3 straight stoppage setbacks, the 37-year-old native of Mission Viejo, California returned to top physical form as he overpowered Barnatt over 3 rounds to sweep the judges’ sheets with the scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 30-27.
Muñoz overwhelmed Barnatt from start to finish with repetitive takedowns and solid overhand right to negate the length and height leverage.
The pro-Muñoz crowd at Pasay City’s Mall of Asia Arena erupted in the dying seconds of the third round when he scored a single-leg takedown and concluded it with his signature “Donkey Kong” ground-and-pound.
Muñoz left his gloves at the center of the Octagon as his sendoff gesture and delivered a heartfelt speech in his post-fight interview.
“This is something I dreamed about and I hoped for,” Muñoz said. “I know I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to accomplish in the cage, but I invested a lot of my time in lives. I’ve been able to help change lives and impact lives in a positive way. That’s what I’m here for.” – Rappler.com