2016 was a roller coaster year for MMA in the Philippines. Here’s why

MMA IN THE PHILIPPINES

Let’s take a look back at the highs and lows of yet another epic year for MMA in the Philippines.

MMA in the Philippines is constantly changing and growing. We may hit some speed bumps along the way, but it’s all part of the this awesome sport we love.

2016 was a pretty crazy year for fans and fighters alike. Here are some of the highlights.

Folayang won the lightweight title

This will definitely go down as one of the highlights of the year for most Pinoy MMA fans. After years of chasing a world title, Baguio’s Eduard Folayang pulled off Asian MMA’s upset of the year by beating Shinya Aoki via TKO to win the ONE lightweight title. After going fightless in 2015, Folayang won 3 straight in 2016, including his championship victory.

Plenty of visits from UFC fighters

We’re used to having 1 or 2 high-profile UFC fighters visiting the Philippines during the year, but 2016 was something else. Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, John “The Magician” Dodson, and Max “Blessed” Holloway all flew to Manila for media tours and fan meet-and-greets. Also, UFC Ambassador Mark “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Munoz made a couple of visits to Manila to do seminars and to meet with fans. Fans also got to meet their idols BJ Penn and Ricardo Lamas when they visited the country.

A canceled UFC Manila card

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This one rocked the boat big time. There was plenty of anticipation for the UFC’s second Manila event, but just one week before fight night, the UFC announced that supposed headliner BJ Penn was out with in an injury and that the entire card would have to be “rescheduled.” This was a plot twist that even M. Night Shyamalan wouldn’t have seen coming, and it left many Pinoy MMA fans hanging.

Team Lakay’s winning year

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No MMA team in the Philippines is as highly scrutenized as Team Lakay, so it was nice to see them rack up the accolades and soak up the praise this 2016. Besides Folayang’s big wins, Team Lakay’s April Osenia, Joshua Pacio, Geje Eustaquio, Gina Iniong, Jon Chris Corton, Kevin Belingon, Stephen Loman, and Honorio Banario all picked up a number of wins this year, some of which by impressive submission. Pacio did fall short in his ONE title shot and some suffered losses, but overall, it was a rejuvenating year for the Baguio-based squad.

Our first Filipina MMA champ

Time are a-changing. From having no women fighting in MMA, we now have a Filipina MMA champion in the form of Sub Sport/ Kratos MMA’s Geli Bulaong. She won her pro debut against Jen Damaso earlier this year then went on to win the URCC belt over Yan Qi Hui in November, making history as the country’s first female URCC champion.

URCC’s surge

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It was a BIG year for the URCC, which made a strong comeback this 2016. Its new TV deal with ABS CBN gave it unprecedented reach to Pinoy audiences and its 3 events for the year were all highly anticipated and attended. Its amateur league, AFC, also got its own reality show on the same TV network, and promotion head Alvin Aguilar announced the URCC would be USA-bound in 2017. No doubt, this year was a big one for the homegrown MMA promotion.

Lausa’s success

All I do is win” was the soundtrack of Jenel Lausa’s 2016. In this year alone, he won the PXC flyweight belt, he bagged a super bantamweight title in pro boxing, and then he signed with the UFC and won his debut in Melbourne via unanimous decision. It was one heck of a year for “The Demolition Man,” making him one of Philippine MMA’s biggest winners of 2016.

Celebrity matches and 3-vs-3

URCC 3 on 3While MMA in the Philippines grew in many ways over the past 12 months, there were some instances that made people wonder if we were taking a step backwards. Such instances were the URCC’s celebrity grudgematch between actors Baron Geisler and Kiko Matos and the promotion’s first ever 3-vs-3 match up. These events surely raised a few eyebrows and stirred the pot, and were certainly unforgetable parts of our roller coaster year in Pinoy MMA.

The rise of local stars

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More than anything, this year was also a year of championing local talent. CJ de Tomas won and defended his URCC flyweight title. Chris Hofmann won both the URCC’s light heavyweight and middleweight titles. Alvin Ramirez had big fights. Carlo Laurel gained infamy. Rolando Dy went 3-for-3. And new stars like Drex Zamboanga and Stephen Loman (just to name a few) all made their presence felt this year.

It wasn’t a flawless year for MMA in the Philippines, but it sure was an epic one. And we look forward to an even crazier 2017!

Gab Pangalangan

Gab Pangalangan is a former collegiate national Judo champ and the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of DojoDrifter.com. You can find his other works in the Philippines' leading magazines and websites.
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