May 31, 2013 was a night of heartbreak for Pinoy fight fans who trooped to the Mall of Asia Arena after five of the best Filipino MMA fighters delivered loss after loss at the OneFC: Rise to Power event. The mood was in complete contrast to the jubilation felt by fight fans who attended the first OneFC event (Pride of a Nation) held in Manila last year where Pinoy superstars proved their worth against their opponents in impressive fashion. But as the saying goes, you win some and you some. Unfortunately for us, we lost — a lot.
For the OneFC’s second outing in the Philippines, its president and CEO Victor Cui gave the hometown heroes opportunities to step up their game and prove to the world that Pinoys are deserving of a shot at the OneFC belts. OneFC is the Asian counterpart of the UFC and is known as the biggest network of MMA fighters in Asia. The fight card read like a Japan vs Philippines event as the best of the two countries vied for the top spot on the OneFC leaderboard for the chance to fight in the organization’s next main event.
Of the formal pay per view event, the first Pinoy who lost via third round unanimous decision was young up and comer, Wushu Xanda champ Geje Eustaquio. His opponent, American grappler Andrew Leone managed to control Geje on the ground for most of the three rounds with Geje giving no concrete answer to his takedowns. Worse, the young Pinoy fighter seemed to not take the match seriously, often grinning to the camera showing thumbs up signs and only managing to punch Leone from his back. It was the same story for the whole fight so it came as no surprise that the good natured American took the win.
Crowd favorite Edward “Landslide” Folayang came next. He was pitted against The Prince of Persia, Kamal Shalorus, an Iranian national wrestling champion. Edward, who is known for showing tremendous determination and heart in his fights, gave his best effort, but proved ineffective against the stronger Shalorus’s takedowns. It also didn’t help that Shalorus seemed prepared for Edward’s kicks and anticipated his every assault. The fight ended with Shalorus moving up to the OneFC ladder via unanimous decision.
The third Pinoy in the fight card was URCC pinweight champ Rey Docyogen, who suffered a severe height disadvantage against his Japanese opponent Yasuhiro Urushitani. From the onset, Docyogen seemed the more aggressive of the two fighters, landing kicks and punches and quickly evading Urushitani’s attacks. However, as the fight progressed and believing that he was ahead in points, Docyogen spent the better part of the third round running around the ring, which seemed more like a jogging workout instead of an MMA fight. As a result, the running cost him, when judges favored Urushitani’s lesser but more substantial attempts to do damage via split decision at the end of Round 3.
Team Lakay and URCC’s Bantamweight champion Kevin Belingon, who was the only Pinoy who lost in OneFC:Pride of a Nation (He won several matches in OneFC abroad after) was given a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his kababayans when he was pitted against Japanese Masakatsu Ueda, a strong fighter with a solid wrestling base. Kevin is an exciting fighter who specializes in striking but his game plan was effectively negated by Ueda’s takedowns and submission attempts. Kevin clearly needs to improve his nonexistent ground defense, which also cost him the match against Soo Chul Kim (now OneFC Bantamweight champion) last year. Hope came alive in the third round as Kevin’s striking rocked Ueda and almost put him to heel. But Ueda’s training prevailed as he managed to take down Kevin again, despite all the blood in his face to end the round on top as the dominant fighter. Unanimous decision: Ueda takes the Bantamweight Grand Prix trophy.
The last Filipino warrior, 23-year old OneFC featherweight champ Honorio Banario took on the veteran Koji Oishi to defend his title in the final match up of the night. Banario held his own against the foreigner and showed great agrression towards the final minutes of the first round. Before the bell rang, Oishi was no longer intelligently defending himself from Banario’s barrage of strikes and surprisingly, the referee did not stop the match. The Japanese wrestler’s victory came 1:42 into the second round when he knocked out Banario with a strike.
So at the end of the night, what lesson should Team Lakay learn from this? Mixed martial arts is a sport and there is no question that our guys have the skills and the heart to make it to the big leagues. However, as the level of the competition grows higher, Pinoy fighters should make an active effort to become more well rounded because their opponents will not willingly lay down on their backs and take a beating. And because Pinoy mixed martial artists are generally young, they have a lot to learn in terms of maturity and experience in the ring.
The OneFC is not kidding around when it comes to recruiting fighters. It wants the best fighters in its roster. This means that the competition is bound to get stiffer as more experienced fighters join the fray.
As such, Pinoy fighters cannot afford to become one dimensional. From what I have observed, Team Lakay needs to improve the ground game of its fighters. Geje was ineffective against submission attempts and tried to laugh off his discomfort. I understand that fighters are entertainers as well but the they must always have the seriousness and presence of mind while in the fight because at the end of the day, they will be judged not because of how they entertained the crowd but how dominantly they won the fight.
Kevin Belingon improved leaps and bounds in terms of defending against submission attempts. There were several times he got in trouble but he still managed to slip away without tapping. However, the problem is that he has to improve his takedown defense because he gets very vulnerable when he is on the ground. His striking is also rendered ineffective when the opponent has the dominant position.
Folayang also needs to improve his ground game, for the times he is not on top. He has good ground and pound but in terms of recovering from a position of disadvantage, he finds it very difficult. He could also benefit from an improved cardio training as well as train in mixing up his kicks by using different levels (He used to do this really well but his conditioning may have factored in this area). There is no doubt that Folayang works hard and has in no way let the fame get to his head, but with stronger opponents being thrown at him and with OneFC’s Victor Cui constantly challenging him with better foes, he needs to prove that he still has what it takes to stay in the game.
As for Honorio “The Rock” Banario. He has the makings of a good champion. Adding to his advantage is his youth and his maturity in understanding the opportunity presented to him by the OneFC. What he needs is patience and presence of mind, especially in championship fights. This time around, he got careless but hopefully, his loss will add to his experience and hunger in getting back what he lost.
You ask me what do I know? Nothing. I am not a mixed martial artist. I am just a simple fight fan. But I call it as I see it. If Team Lakay wants to be the next Evolve of Asia, then it should not sit on its hands and address these concerns immediately. Get a great grappling coach stat and work on the team’s ground game. The team has huge potential, and I wouldn’t want it to see it go to waste. Not when the opportunities are at hand.