2016 was a breakthrough year for Philippine MMA
The Philippines has produced many notable boxers throughout the years, including Francisco “Pancho Villa” Guilledo, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, and eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao.
Although the country has become a breeding ground of world-class boxers, it is quickly carving a niche in other combat sports, particularly in mixed martial arts.
The nation has been deeply involved with MMA since 1995, when Kung Fu practitioner Onassis Parungao made his professional debut in the United States, but it took seven years before the sport was formally introduced on local shores.
For over two decades, it has been a dizzying rollercoaster ride for Filipino fighters as they encountered a mix of sweet triumphs and heartbreaks.
However, it was a different story in 2016, as Filipino combatants glimmered like diamonds atop an international MMA stage.
Over the course of 14 events in ONE Championship’s 2016 calendar, Filipino competitors tallied 24 victories, including a successful title defense and a stunning championship-winning performance.
Let us explore the moments that left an indelible mark in 2016, courtesy of the gallant warriors from the Philippines.
Eduard Folayang attains long-sought title
Eduard Folayang’s long journey to a world title in MMA had an epic conclusion, as the renowned Filipino fighter became the first to defeat Japanese MMA legend Shinya Aoki in nearly five years.
The 33-year-old Baguio City native captured the ONE Lightweight World Championship belt by beating Aoki via third-round technical knockout in the main event of ONE Championship: Defending Honor last November.
With his astonishing conquest of Aoki, Folayang joined Team Lakay comrade Honorio Banario and international MMA sensation Brandon Vera as Filipinos to win world titles in ONE Championship.
Names of possible lightweight contenders to challenge Folayang for his gold-plated strap have surfaced, but there is nothing set in stone at the moment.
Folayang is willing to face any deserving fighter on ONE Championship’s lightweight roster and seeks to have his first title defense in front of his countrymen.
Brandon Vera defends ONE Heavyweight World Championship crown
As an age-old adage of prizefighting goes, a fighter is simply not considered a real champion until they defends their title successfully.
Vera made easy work of the previously-unbeaten Japanese stalwart, winning by technical knockout just minutes into the first round.
From the opening bell, Vera began to land a series of solid blows on Sekine, who surprisingly took his foe’s best shots quite well.
Moments later, a thudding body kick connected for Vera, sending Sekine crashing to the canvas while clutching his midsection. Vera then put on the finishing touches with punishing strikes from the top to get the win.
The 39-year-old ONE Heavyweight World Champion is eying a more active fight calendar in 2017.
Team Lakay’s 16-fight winning streak
Team Lakay has become an instantly recognizable name in the Philippine MMA scene because of the big number of successful homegrown talents that it has produced since its inception in 2003.
Headquartered at an elevation of 4,300 feet above sea level in the mountains of La Trinidad, Benguet, Team Lakay has been recognized as one of Asia’s elite MMA groups, spawning remarkable Filipino fighters such as Eduard Folayang and Honorio Banario. The team also includes members Geje Eustaquio, Kevin Belingon, Edward Kelly, Joshua Pacio, Danny Kingad, and April Osenio.
In 2016, the Philippines’ premiere MMA stable embarked on an incredible winning streak, showcasing a magnificently-improved ground game to thwart several top opponents. Team Lakay piled up 16-straight victories, including five wins by way of submission.
Team Lakay also accomplished a clean sweep at ONE Championship: Global Rivals last April. The celebrated MMA group won five fights out of five, with all of its representatives emerging victorious after impressive performances.
In addition, three members of the fabled Team Lakay accomplished a breakout year after suffering disappointing setbacks.
Banario, the former ONE Featherweight World Champion, broke his losing spell in 2016 and is currently riding high on a three-bout victory parade.
Meanwhile, Kelly attained a come-from-behind submission victory over Jordan Lucas in March, then picked up imposing knockout wins over Vincent Latoel and Sunoto.
Widely regarded as the face of Philippine MMA, Folayang capped off his year with a shocking triumph over Aoki.
Eustaquio had started 2016 with a bang by scoring a one-punch knockout of Saiful Merican in January before furnishing with a lopsided decision victory over Gianni Subba last April.
Belingon might have stumbled in his meeting with ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano Fernandes in January, but he made up for it by outpointing Tajik standout Muin Gafurov this past October.
It has definitely been a banner year for the Philippines’ premier MMA team. According to Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao, numerous heartbreaking setbacks in previous years fueled their desire to get better.
Highlight-reel knockouts of Burn Soriano and Jimmy Yabo
Burn “The Hitman” Soriano is relatively new to the promotion, having just made his debut last April in a loss to Indonesian fighter Sunoto. In his second trip to the ONE Championship cage, Soriano made sure that he left a lasting impression.
The 30-year-old Filipino standout finished the job in just 15 seconds by delivering a well-executed spinning backfist that instantly turned the lights out on Wirawan.
It was a great win for Soriano, and one that he will look back upon for years to come as part of his career highlights.
Yabo uncorked a solid right hook while moving backward to knock Ahmad out cold, adding a hammerfist on the ground for good measure.
Filipino prospects shined in 2016
The Philippine MMA scene has a promising future as 2016 witnessed the emergence of Team Lakay’s young guns Joshua Pacio and Danny Kingad.
Pacio had three fights under the ONE Championship banner in 2016, winning his first two assignments in impressive fashion. He made his successful ONE Championship debut in April by scoring a second-round technical knockout of compatriot Rabin Catalan, before he submitted Thailand’s Kritsada Kongsrichai with a first-round rear-naked choke last August.
His two-fight winning streak inside the ONE Championship cage earned him a date with ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka Naito this past October.
Pacio was close to becoming the youngest Filipino fighter to claim a world title in MMA but made a crucial mistake in the bout, derailing his championship aspirations as Naito secured a rear-naked choke in the third round.
Pacio might have fallen short in the first world title fight of his budding career, but he managed to silence his critics. Even at a tender age of 20, he has already reached championship-caliber status.
Meanwhile, Kingad had his fair share of spectacular moments as part of ONE Championship’s exciting flyweight bracket.
In his first promotional appearance last April, he stopped Malaysian fighter Muhamad Haidar just a little over two minutes into the first round.
At ONE Championship: Age of Domination this December, Kingad mustered a huge victory by submitting veteran and compatriot Eugene Toquero with a first-round armbar.
Even with the influx of fledgling combatants from all corners of the archipelago, Pacio and Kingad will most likely to lead the way for the new breed of Filipino talents in ONE Championship.