(Photo credit: Alex Alferez/ Sports Gateway PH)
As ONE Fighting Championship: Age of Domination, to be held on December 2, Friday night at the Mall of Asia arena in Pasay city looms closer, the level of Filipino Mixed Martial Arts in the Philippines goes higher.
“Ito talaga ‘yung pangarap ko since noon pa. I really wanted to make sure that the Filipinos shot up on the map, shot up on the world stage,” said current ONE Championship Heavyweight champ Brandon Vera. “And then everybody’s here. Nakarating na, eto na halos puno na yung card ko Pilipino. It makes me very happy and proud.”
Run by one of the biggest fighting organizations in the world in ONE, the event is stacked with Filipino talent headlined by the accomplished former UFC star Vera who will face undefeated Japanese behemoth Hideki Sekine in the eleventh and final fight of the night. They are co-headlined by Filipino-Australian Reece McLaren who will face Brazilian Bibiano Fernandes.
McLaren, who boasts a 9-3-0 record, will have a tough task in the night’s tenth match against the veteran Fernandes who has a 19-3-0 record and who has been fighting professionally since 2004. The Brazilian is also a tough nut to crack, judging from his three losses– with one of his losses coming from current UFC Star Urijah Faber.
“He’s a living legend so I’m excited,” said McLaren, who was born to an Australian mother and never got to meet his Filipino father. “I think I’m gonna need every tool on the bout. He’s so well rounded, he’s been around for a long time so it’s gonna take everything.”
With the fight also held in the Philippines, he also relishes that he’s the crowd favorite. “Coming back here definitely feels like home so if the crowd cheers for home I would like that,” said the Toowoomba, Queensland-based submission specialist.
As for Fernandes, even though not a Filipino, he has been a crowd favorite in the Philippines and has had a Filipino connection and doesn’t see McLaren as a hometown bet as a factor. “I’m glad to be back here in Manila. I’m always happy to be back here in Manila I love the Filipino people,” he said. “My best friend is Filipino and he says don’t worry I’m with you I support you and that’s what’s important.”
“I think he’s good. I think he’s very good, he’s very quick with the jui jitsu and the wrestling,” Fernandes said of McLaren. “I’m excited for him.”
Also in the fight card is constant favorite Eugene Toquero with an 8-3-0 record who will face off against fellow Pinoy Danny Kingad who is 3-0-0 in a battle of up-and-coming fighters on the card’s third fight. Toquero, who is an entertainer with his antics on and off the ring is wary about his opponent who is a member of the famed Team Lakay.
“Delikado sila sa striking tsaka ground so hindi pwedeng maliitin si Danny. Tsaka Lakay is malakas talaga,” Toquero said. Team Lakay is a famed Mixed Martial Arts group based in Baguio city and has produced some of the country’s best MMA fighters with members like the recently crowned ONE Lightweight champion Eduard Folayang.
Toquero, however, went back to his usual comical self, “Ingatan ko wag guluhin ang buhok ko,” he said, drawing laughs from the media.
For the soft-spoken Kingad, he along with fellow Team Lakay members claim to be inspired and motivated by Folayang’s win. “Yun ‘yung personal motivation namin kasi ilan lang yung belt tapos ‘yun ‘yung motivation namin– para makapag-champion ng sabay.”
Kingad also says that his more experienced opponent has a slight edge, “Disadvantage sa akin kasi siya ay lumaban na sa belt and ako lang yung challenger.”
Asked if he’s worried that the crowd would be divided in their match, Toquero, who’s performance is greatly influenced by the crowd, says it doesn’t matter as long as the fans get what they paid to see, “Enjoy lang ‘rin. Basta everybody enjoys the fight.”
Other Pinoys in the fight card are Team Lakay members Flyweight April Osenio, Featherweight Edward “the Ferocious” Kelly, Featherweight Honoro Banario, Flyweight Geje Eustaquio, and Fil-Am Bantamweight Mark Streigl. Osenio will face Taiwan’s Jenny Huang; Kelly will fight Indonesian Su Noto; Banario will go head-to-head with Rajinder Singh Meena; Eustaquio will take on Finnish Toni Tauru; while Streigl will take on Bulgarian Sotir Kichukov.
“It’s an honor,” said Vera of headlining the event. “Kasi ‘yung mga Pilipino dito, grabe talaga, everybody’s getting so well-rounded, so good. Everybody’s trying to step up their cardio, they’re pulling coaches from all around the world to get better at their takedowns, their ground and their stand-ups. So it’s an honor to be fighting and headlining the show here in the Philippines especially with all the talent that we have.” Vera said, in awe.
The 39-year-old Vera who has been the most successful MMA fighter with Filipino blood and with his MMA career on the homestretch says he wants more Pinoys to be inspired to do what he did, “Part of my legacy is not to be the last heavyweight champion of the world. Part of my legacy is to create champions here in the Philippines. Let’s create, let’s find another heavyweight champion.
“Let’s create more champions on the world stage who’s Filipino. I’m all in.”