2017 was an up-and-down year for Philippine martial arts
While world champions fell and expectations were not met in international campaigns, young warriors also rose. And this keeps the future bright for the industry.
Before we begin, martial artists that need to be acknowledged as well are former ONE Featherweight World Champion Eduard Folayang (Career: 18-6, 2017: 1-1), former IBF Light Flyweight World Champion Milan Melindo (Career: 37-3, 13KO, 2017: 2-1), SEA Games gold medalist Samuel Morrison (Taekwondo, -74kg), SEA Games gold medalist Dines Dumaan (Pencak Silat – Men’s Tanding (Match) Class A), and SEA Games gold medalist Agatha Wong (Women’s Compulsory 3rd Taijiquan).
Here is the top pound-for-pound list for the year that was.
Mixed martial arts: Kevin Belingon (Bantamweight)
Representing the famed Team Lakay in Baguio City, Philippines, Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon is one of the country’s most talented martial artists with a professional record of 16-5.
Belingon is known as a fierce competitor with the ability to finish opponents in a variety of methods as the 29-year old Wushu practitioner owns seven huge knockouts on his resume and is considered as one of the most feared strikers in ONE Championship’s deep bantamweight division.
Since losing to reigning ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes in January 2016, Belingon has barged through his top rivals with a slew of fearsome striking performances and showcased his incredible punching power.
It began with a thorough defeat of Tajikistan’s highly-touted Muin Gafurov in October 2016, followed by a complete first-round annihilation of Finnish submission wizard Toni “Dynamite” Tauru at ONE Kings of Destiny in Manila, Philippines.
Those two consecutive wins earned Belingon a showdown with top bantamweight contender Reece “Lightning” McLaren at ONE: Quest for Greatness in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
As the Aussie crashed to the canvas, Belingon followed with a relentless volley of punches to finish the contest.
At ONE: Legends of the World in Manila, Philippines, Belingon scored his fourth straight victory by defeating Korean-American contender Kevin “Old Boy” Chung via unanimous decision.
Come 2018, he is looking to get another crack at gold.
Judo: Kiyomi Watanabe (-63kg)/Mariya Takahashi (-70kg)
In a lackluster 2017 Southeast Asian Games campaign, there was a sport that came into national consciousness. Women’s judo hauled two of the medals for the division.
And it’s all thanks to Filipino-Japanese judokas Kiyomi Watanabe and Mariya Takahashi.
Watanabe, who celebrated her 21st birthday last August 25 — a day before she took stage, wasted no time in dispatching Thailand’s Orapin Senatham in the finale, scoring a waza-ari after a throw early in the contest. Watanabe gained control of her opponent, pinning the latter to the mat to eventually win the match in just 37 seconds.
Takahashi stunned four-time SEA Games medalist Surratana Thongsri (Thailand) to win the women’s -70kg division. She secured a leg trip seconds into the contest. The young judoka then carefully transitioned to a pin to secure the win via ippon.
With this, the Philippine Judo Federation has big plans for the two as they are grooming them for the Olympics.
Poomsae: Rodolfo Reyes Jr.
To open his 2017 campaign, Rodolfo Reyes Jr., together with brothers Dustin Jacob and Enrico Raphael Mella, kept the SEA Games’ Men’s Team Poomsae crown in the country after a rousing performance in the finals.
The Southeast Asian Games reigning men’s team poomsae champions turned in 8.37 in the Taegeuk 8, but followed it up with an even more impressive 8.43 in Shipjin. That brought the final score to 8.40, 0.6 clear of hosts Malaysia.
The troika bagged the country’s 16th gold medal in the regional meet.
Reyes then flew from Malaysia to Turkmenistan for the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. He won silver in the Men’s Invidual event while copping bronze with the Mella brothers in the Men’s Team event.
Back as a student-athlete last November, he capped his spectacular UAAP career by helping send the University of Santo Tomas Tiger Jins back to the top of the collegiate taekwondo scene during the UAAP Season 80 Poomsae championships.
Brazilian Jiujitsu: Meggie Ochoa (-45kg)/Annie Ramirez (-49kg)
Ochoa won the first gold for the country in the 62-nation sportsfest following a convincing 5-0 victory over Vietnam’s Le Thu Trang Du in the women’s Ne-waza -45kg finals.
Ramirez followed Ochoa on the medal stands an hour later after defeating Jenna Kaila Napolis, 9-0, in the all-Filipino finale of the women’s Ne-waza -55kg category held at the Martial Arts Arena.
“I trained everyday coming in, except on Sundays. But the most important part of my preparation was fixing my mindset,” recalled Ochoa, a three-time world jiu-jitsu champion.
“I prepared the entire year for this and it paid off,” added the 26-year-old Ramirez, the reigning continental and Asian Beach Games champion.
With the gold rush in the upstart sport, the Philippines exceeded one-gold, two-bronze performance of the Philippines back in 2013.
And we have the two jiu-jieteros to thank for it.
Boxing: Jerwin Ancajas (Junior Bantamweight)
Reigning IBF Junior Bantamweight world champion Jerwin Ancajas (28-1-1, 19KO) is just one of two remaining world champions in the Philippines’ stable. With the way his 2017 went, it seems that he will be a world champion for a very long time.
The 25-year-old pugilist started the year by making his first successful defense of his crown by retiring José Alfredo Rodríguez at the Cotai Arena in Macau.
Fighting in the co-main event of the Battle of Brisbane, Ancajas was not fazed, scoring a seventh round TKO win over Teiru Kinoshita last July 2.
He capped his sensational year by taking over Ireland with a stoppage win over hometown favorite Jamie Conlan in the eighth round last November 18.
With this, the Davao del Norte-born southpaw is being dubbed as the next Manny Pacquiao. Still, he is remaining grounded as he always looks back to the time he was a struggling fighter.
“Lagi naman akong naghahanda talaga at hindi po ako nagpapabaya lalo na parang sakin po kasi, habang tumatagal na nagdedepensa, pabigat na ng pabigat ang mga laban.
“Ganun po yung ginagawa ko talaga, hindi ako nagkukumpyansa. Sa ensayo, ensayo talaga,” he furthered. “Kumbaga ito na yung daan na makilala kami, yung team namin na maipakita yung best sa laban.”
Ancajas will make his fourth title defense on February 3 against Israel Gonzalez.