For every mixed martial artist, the ultimate dream is to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The octagon is the ultimate proving ground in the sport. As they say, if you can make it in the UFC, you can make it anywhere.
There have been many Filipinos who competed in the octagon — and the man paving the way was Onassis Parungao.
Parungao, who practices Kung Fu, was part of the early stages of the promotion, competing in UFC 7 back in September 1995.
“I was watching it (UFC) and you know, back there were no rules and no weight classes, no gloves. I was doing a lot of street fights being a Navy kid,” recalled the Filipino-American, who is now 50 years old.
“I knew that there wasn’t a Filipino guy there, so I was banking on the day they would let me in there, and just all the stars aligned and they just worked. It wasn’t like I had all this fame. So I saw an opportunity, we wrote a letter, and I just sent a video.”
Parungao defeated Francesco Maturi in his only bout with the promotion, stopping him due to strikes in just five minutes.
It would take anoter 10 years before a Filipino would make it to the big league.
Filipino-Americans Brandon Vera (2005) and Mark Munoz (2009) brought unique skillsets in the Octagon. The former was a creative striker at heavyweight, while the latter was an advanced wrestler at middleweight.
Munoz fought in 15 UFC bouts, going 9-6 there. On the other hand, Vera, the current ONE Heavyweight World Champion, went 8-7-1.
Having been in what is seen as the “big league” for a long time, the Filipino middleweight share that the UFC might not be the only show, but it is definitely the biggest.
“The UFC has created a market and it’s definitely the biggest show. It’s definitely one that’s in every country, it’s shown all around the world. There are fighters from all around the world that fight in the UFC, and they just created a brand that everybody understands as the biggest show around.”
The country’s most decorated stable Team Lakay also had a chance to compete on that stage, as the trio of Dave Galera, Mark Eddiva, and Roldan Sangcha-an were signed by the promotion back in 2014.
The troika could just produce a total of one win in seven bouts, though.
Still, it was an experience that they cherished forever — especially for Mark Eddiva, who received life-changing money in the form of a performance bonus.
“Masasabi kong it’s like an opportunity of a lifetime na ipakita na ang mga kagaya natin na Pilipino is handa tayong lahat sa ganung mga pagkakataon. ‘Yung feeling ba na parang excited na hindi mo mai-explain, it’s like you’re putting yourself in a… na hindi mo alam na it’s…. ‘di ko ma-explain’ yung feeling when I have the contract. Parang talaga ba totoo ba ‘to? It’s like I’m dreaming,” expressed Sangcha-an, who went 0-2, during the time he signed his UFC contract.
“Medyo nakakanerbyos talaga kasi I wasn’t expecting it. Ako naman I was only doing it for fitness. I was doing it to express,” shared Galera, who lost to Royston Wee in his only bout in the UFC back in January of 2014.
“Nakakanerbyos talaga siya kasi you’re really representing the country.”
“Masasabi kong mataas ang level dun kasi that time nafe-feel kong nung nag-tetraining ako for UFC na parang buhat-buhat ko ‘yung mundo eh. Ganon talaga kabigat ‘yung training ko noon. Tapos ‘yung mga level ng mga fighters matataas din, pero ‘yun nga, parang nasa isip lang din,” said Eddiva, who went 1-4 plus a USD 50,000 for winning Fight of the Night honors back in May of 2014.
The next wave of Filipino fighters in the UFC arrived in 2016 in Jenel Lausa, Rolando Dy, and CJ De Tomas.
Just like the previous batch, only one of them would be granted a win in eight bouts — Dy’s unanimous decision win over Wuliji Buren back in November of 2017.
Dy has some regrets during his one year run with the outfit. And he hopes that he can still have another run with them.
“Okay pa rin naman, nanalo pa rin naman ako ng milyones noon, pero ‘di ba? Minalas-malas ako sa UFC run ko, kaya nga kung sana kung makapasok ulit eh,” expressed Dy, who pocketed the Fight of the Night bonus in his last UFC bout back in June 23, 2018.
In the current roster of the UFC, former flyweight challenger John Dodson is the only fighter who has Filipino heritage. But at 35, Dodson is already entering the twilight of his career.
And according to URCC owner Alvin Aguilar, you can’t rush things if you want to compete in the UFC. He cited the case of De Tomas, who, despite having gone undefeated in his first seven fights, was just 20 years old when he made his UFC debut.
“Golden Boy — exactly, that’s what we called he because he was a little boy who was called the Golden Boy when he was still a kid. So I watched this kid win everything from jiu-jitsu to wrestling as he was growing up,” he recalled about De Tomas.
“When he finally got to a certain level already in the URCC, UFC started calling. I told him, ‘You’re not ready, you will get chewed out, spit out, then you’ll never have a career!’ And guess what happened? ‘Yung mga kamag-anak niya sabi, ‘Hindi, ‘yan na yun, ayaw lang ni Alvin na mawala ka sa URCC!’ I don’t care kung mawala ka sa URCC! I want you to do well there in the UFC para may Pinoy tayo that can actually do well there. Ayaw pa rin kasi so you know what happened right?” he continued.
De Tomas went 0-2, while being busted for having a banned substance in his system during his last bout in December 2017.
“Look at him now, he’s just in some f***ing gym in a ******* promotional, so ‘di ba? Sayang.”
So the question is definitely not when will we see a Filipino world champion in the UFC, but how can the Filipino mixed martial artist string wins there.
Dy and Munoz might have the answer — and it involves high-level grappling.
“Nandoon na tayo. Kinakailangan lang natin ng international experience. Si Junior Montilla, isa ‘yan sa naniniwala ako na may pag-asa sa UFC, 125 nga lang. Kasi ang ground game ni Montilla, okay na ang ground game niya,” said Dy.
“I think the common thing that everyone says with MMA is wrestling. Wrestling is the ultimate neutralizer. If you don’t have a good understanding of wrestling, you’re gonna have a really hard time becoming one of the, being ranked in the world or even be a champion,” opined Munoz.
“I fell that that’s something that the Philippines needs. And I’m the guy to do that for them. I need to make sure I spend time in the Philippines to be able to help that.”
And the next Filipino UFC fighter might finally be the one the country has been looking for for the past two decades.