2014: A roller coaster ride for Philippine MMA

Nissi Icasiano

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2014: A roller coaster ride for Philippine MMA
The Philippine MMA scene in 2014 was witness to heartbreaking losses and scintillating victories

MANILA, Philippines – 2014 will go down in history as getting the best and worst scores in the mixed martial arts (MMA) scene of the Philippines. It started on full throttle but is sadly similar to a roller coaster ride in its rising and falling inconsistencies.

Running blitz on its track, Philippine MMA reached its peak this year as homegrown talents flaunted their skills on the ultimate stomping ground of the sport and Pinoy fighters were given opportunities to vie for world titles.

2014 likewise witnessed a renowned female boxer shifting her gears to MMA and the arrival of a famous Filipino-American stalwart to an Asian-based organization to fulfill his longtime dream of competing in his homeland.

However, the downslide has gone to extremes. To date, Filipino combatants remain title-less in the sport. In addition, the Philippine MMA frontrunner was knocked out cold courtesy of a brutal soccer kick.

Through it all, Rappler lists down the Top 10 moments that left an indelible niche in Philippine MMA this 2014.

10. URCC’s cage debut

After over a decade of staging fights in a squared-circle,Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) bared an ambitious quest to reach greater heights as the first Philippine-based MMA company adapted to using a cage for its bouts.

According to URCC founder Alvin Aguilar, the main reason behind the switch to cage is that some fighters who got accustomed to the ring had problems fighting in a cage.

“The only reason why we went to the cage is that, we are preparing our fighters for international fights and everybody in the international stage fights in the cage and I don’t want our fighters to have to adjust to the cage,” he said.

In the same year, URCC made its comeback by hosting its first major event since November 2013 dubbed as “Takeover” last October 23 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, Metro Manila.

The fight card was headlined by a rematch between Andrew Benibe and Rey Transmonte for the vacant URCC bantamweight championship

Benibe exacted sweet revenge over Transmonte as he punished his opponent with vicious blows to the head in the fifth round to avenge his razor-thin setback last year and capture the available bantamweight belt.

9. Mark Striegl joins ONE FC

After parting ways with Pacific Xtreme Combat (PXC) in April of this year, Filipino-American fighter Mark Striegl directed his path to ONE Fighting Championship (ONE FC).

Striegl established himself as one of the top Pinoy MMA prospects with stellar stints in different promotions across the Asian region such as PXC, Legend FC and URCC, to name a few.

The 26-year-old “Mugen” holds an impressive prizefighting record of 13-1, with 11 wins coming by way of submission.

In addition, he owns noteworthy triumphs over the likes of Crisanto Pitpitunge, Yusuke Kawanago, Ev Ting and Harris Sarmiento.

Striegl tasted the lone loss of his professional MMA run when he squared off with Jang Yong Kim for the vacant PXC featherweight title in September 2013.

In the aforementioned encounter with the gritty Korean, Kim fastened a Kimura lock and then applied a leg-scissor choke to compel Striegl to tap in the third round.

During that period, Striegl was highly touted to be following the footsteps of PXC standouts such as Jon Tuck, Hyun Gyu Lim, Dustin Kimura, Louis Smolka and Michinori Tanaka in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but the disappointing setback to Kim derailed his opportunity to enter the world’s premier MMA promotion.

Thirteen months later, Striegl placed himself back on the winning track by submitting Kaiwhare Kara-France with a first-round rear-naked choke in the co-headliner of Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA) 2 grand finals this past October.

The exact date and the suitable opponent for Striegl’s ONE FC debut have not been announced as of the moment.

8. Eric Kelly’s ONE FC return and on-hold title aspiration

After a year away from the ONE FC cage, Eric Kelly (11-1) made a successful return to Asia’s largest MMA promotion by submitting Rob Lisita at ONE FC: War of Dragons last July 11.

Kelly, one of the most successful MMA competitors to come out of the Philippines, pulled off a come-from-behind victory over Lisita as he overcame significant difficulty to latch on a rear-naked choke to force Lisita to wave the white flag in the second round while bathing in his own blood.

As a reward for his remarkable outing against Lisita, Kelly became the No. 1 contender for the 145-pound division’s top prize and was penciled to challenge newly-minted featherweight titlist Jadamba Narantungalag in the main event of ONE FC: Warrior’s Way on December 5.

However, the championship clash never materialized as negotiations between Kelly’s management and ONE FC fell through after being billed in promotional posters and videos along with other Pinoy combatants as early as September.

In an interview with Rappler, ONE FC chief Victor Cui shot down the notion that money was the root of it and added that Kelly persisted with issues and remained irresolute despite the offer to face Jadamba in a title tilt.

Even though the 32-year-old native of Baguio City refused to divulge details of the collapse in negotiations due to confidentiality, an insider in the talks between his camp and ONE FC revealed that Kelly was scratched off the card because the Filipino fighter was asking for a raise in his prize money and the company did not grant the request.

7. Ana Julaton shifts from boxing to MMA

Former boxing world champion Ana Julaton (2-1) surprisingly inked an exclusive contract with ONE FC during the summer and made a successful transition from boxing to MMA in May at ONE FC: Rise of Heroes, where she stopped Aya Saeid Saber via third-round technical knockout.

However, Julaton failed to repeat the magic of her triumphant MMA debut as she lost to Ann Osman by split decision at ONE FC: Reign of Champions in August.

The 34-year-old Filipina recently went back on the winning track by outpointing Walaa Abbas by way of unanimous decision on the undercard of ONE FC: Warrior’s Way last December 5.

After having three professional MMA appearances this year, Julaton will be making her much-awaited return to the boxing ring in 2015.

6. UFC acquires three Team Lakay fighters

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made headlines on Philippine news when the promotion enlisted three Team Lakay representatives on its roster in 2014.

Dave Galera (5-1), a 36-year-old standout who was born in the United States but trains out of Baguio City, made his first Octagon appearance this past January at UFC Fight Night 34 in Singapore, where he tasted his first-ever defeat by bowing down to hometown favorite Royston Wee via unanimous decision.

Six months later, Galera was no longer part of the UFC locker room as the Las Vegas-company handed him the pink slip along with four others.

The second Team Lakay fighter who made his way to the UFC is Mark Eddiva (6-1), who pulled off a successful UFC debut in March against Jumabieke Tuerxun via unanimous decision.

However, Eddiva’s second UFC outing earned him his first loss as he yielded to Edimilson “Kevin” Souza via second-round technical knockout on the preliminary card of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3 season finale in May.

Eddiva was originally booked to compete at UFC Fight Night 55 in November versus Mike De La Torre, but he pulled out due to an injury.

Along with Galera and Eddiva, Roldan Sangcha-an (4-1) also held the Team Lakay banner inside the Octagon when he served as a late replacement for Jon Delos Reyes to face Richie Vaculik in a three-round flyweight tussle at UFC Fight Night 43 in June.

Unfortunately, Vaculik spoiled the promotional debut of Sangcha-an as he outpointed the Filipino homegrown combatant by unanimous decision.

5. MMA stars visit PH

The Philippines rolled out the red carpet on three occasions this year for MMA superstars who had fond impression of their stay in the country.

Urijah Faber spearheaded a string of seminars, community outreaches, and mall tours from March 24 to April 2, while Carlos Condit recently held a meet-and-greet session and public workout at the Trinoma Activity Center in Quezon City last November 8.

“With this kind of reception, there is a huge possibility that the UFC will come here to hold an event. I am willing to fight here in the Philippines. I love how you appreciate the sport,” Condit said in front of thousands of MMA fans who attended his open training.

Meanwhile, MMA legend Dan Severn hosted a 3-hour colloquium on December 6 at the Goat Locker Gym in Marikina City.

According to the 56-year-old Severn, he perceives great potential in Filipino fighters but sees most of them as being one dimensional.

Due to the continuous evolution of the sport, Severn strongly recommended that Pinoy combatants must be resilient in every aspect of the game.

“Most of the time you look at what strength does this athlete have on the table. You still see that Filipino fighters are suited in one area when you should be good in all areas. I see great potential in them. MMA is in progress not only in the United States and the Philippines, but everywhere. It is still going to evolve, and they have to adapt to it,” Severn stressed.

4. Eduard Folayang bows down to Russian foe

Russian prospect Timofey Nastyukhin (8-1) scored a major upset as he brutally knocked out Philippine MMA frontrunner Eduard Folayang (14-5) in their lightweight encounter at ONE FC: Warrior’s Way last December 5.

Nastyukhin turned the lights off on Folayang with a flying knee and then nailed two soccer kicks on the ground to coerce referee Yuji Shimada to stop the contest at 3:11 of the first round. 

After the vicious knockout loss to Nastyukhin, Folayang underwent an immediate CT Scan procedure and happily announced that he incurred no serious damage.

“Just got my CT Scan result yesterday and the result is awesome, no injuries and everything is normal. God always promise protection and provision. All is well. Thank you for the encouragements, prayers, and support. We never grow in good times,” he wrote on Facebook.

Unlike its western counterpart UFC, ONE FC uses the international rule-set which blends a combination of best combat practices from all over the globe, permitting soccer kicks, stomps to the body and legs, and knee-strikes to a standing or grounded opponent.

In the event that a match goes the distance, it will go to a judges’ decision as the three cageside officials will score the bout in its entirety, not round-by-round.

3. Brandon Vera makes stellar ONE FC debut

Filipino-American fighter Brandon Vera (13-7, 1 NC) pulled off a successful promotional debut under the ONE FC banner as he thwarted Ukrainian heavyweight Igor Subora in the co-main event of the “Warrior’s Way” fight card last December 5

The 37-year-old “Truth” dropped Subora with a left straight and then finished it off with soccer kicks to compel referee Olivier Coste to halt the action at the 3:54 mark of the first round. 

Vera left the UFC in June after working in the world’s premier MMA promotion for nearly 9 years and joined ONE FC the following month by signing a multi-fight deal.

Although it is more practical to join UFC’s rival companies in the United States such as Bellator MMA and World Series of Fighting, Vera disclosed that ONE FC became the more appealing product to him because the organization offered him an opportunity to strut his wares in front of a hometown crowd.

“When I got the call [from ONE FC], I almost fell out of my chair. I wanted to be here. My very first question was ‘Where would the next fight be?’ Their answer is ‘Manila.’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m in. Thank you!’ It was an easy choice,” he told Rappler.

2. Homegrown talents fail to win MMA belt in 2014

Four Filipino fighters received world title opportunities on an international stage this year, but they came up short in hoisting the Philippine flag aloft.

Geje Eustaquio bowed down to Adriano Moraes by second-round submission for the inaugural ONE FC flyweight crown in September, while Rolando Gabriel Dy yielded to Kyle Aguon via controversial split decision for the vacant PXC bantamweight strap this past October.

However, PXC confirmed to Rappler last month that Guam-based MMA promotion acceded to Dy’s request for a rematch against Kyle Aguon.

According to PXC president Joey Calvo, the second encounter between Dy and Aguon will take place in the Philippines early next year, but the date and venue have yet to be finalized.

The title tilt losing skid for homegrown talents continued in November when Ernesto Montilla Jr. (4-3) and Glen Ranillo (4-3) failed to bring home the PXC belts in the respective championship campaigns.

American-bred Alvin Cacdac submitted Montilla with a rear-naked choke in the third round to bag the available PXC flyweight title.

Meanwhile, Ranillo lost to Japanese stalwart Chuji Kato in a lopsided contest for the vacant PXC lightweight belt by unanimous decision with the scores of 49-45, 50-44 and 50-44.

1. Fil-Am Robbie Lawler wins UFC title

Filipino-American fighter Robbie Lawler edged out John Hendricks to walk out with the welterweight belt in their rematch at the UFC 181 pay-per-view event last December 7 (PH Time).

Despite being behind in total strikes going into the final round, the 32-year-old Lawler turned up the volume late in the five-round tussle and took a split decision. 

Cageside judges Marcos Rosales and Glenn Trowbridge ruled in Lawler’s favor by 48-47 and 49-46 marks, while third official Sal D’Amato casted a dissenting 48-47 nod for Hendricks.

According to FightMetric statistics, Lawler outscored Hendricks in total strikes 208-to-149. 73 of his total strikes landed came in the fifth round.

With the victory over Hendricks, Lawler captured his first UFC gold in his 13-year MMA career and improved his prizefighting record to 25-10, 1 NC.

In addition, he has gone 6-1 since returning to the Octagon in February 2013 and made history as the first MMA competitor who has a Filipino heritage to win a UFC belt.

Despite Lawler’s title-winning performance, fellow Fil-Am Chris Cariaso (17-6) failed in his title bid as he succumbed to the second-round Kimura lock of flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson at UFC 178 in September. – Rappler.com

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