Manny Pacquiao, Eduard Folayang, and the most influential Filipino combat sports stars

ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 12, 2020 12:01 PM
The most influential Filipino combat sports stars
Eight-division boxing world champion Manny Pacquiao is arguably the biggest combat sports start to come from the Philippines (AP Photo)

In the Philippines, it’s hard to see any other sport surpassing basketball in terms of overall popularity. There’s no denying that the Pinoy loves to hoop and to watch others hoop as well. 

One other thing a lot of Pinoys do enjoy watching as well though, is a good old scuffle, which is why apart from basketball (and recently, volleyball), boxing is also considered a Filipino favorite. 

Following in the footsteps of the sweet science, as enthusiasts like to call it, is the rapidly-growing sport of mixed martial arts, or MMA. The fast-paced action of the sport has also managed to capture many a Filipino’s fancy in recent years. 

Whenever our Filipno boxers or mixed martial artists or any of our combat sports stars for that matter, step into their field and compete, more often than not, they are competing for the pride of the country. 

Being that it’s Independence Day, we think it’s fitting that we take a look at some of the most influential combat sports stars that have proudly represented the Philippines. 

Take note that this list is in no particular order. 

Manny Pacquiao (Boxing)

There is arguably no bigger combat sports star in the Philippines than Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao. The Filipino boxing icon is the sport’s only eight-division world champion, and his 62-7-2 professional record includes notable wins over the likes of Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar Dela Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley, Timothy Bradley, Adrian Broner, and most recently Keith Thurman. 

Apart from his in-ring accomplishments, Pacquiao has also been able to transition onto the big screen, has released a music album, and has also transformed into a politician. Right now, the 41-year old, who is also the reigning WBA (Super) Welterweight World Champion is an incumbent Philippine senator. While he has recently denied it, there have been rumours of Pacquiao’s desire to run for presidency in 2022. 

How’s that for influence? 

Gabriel “Flash” Elorde (Boxing)

Flash Elorde may not be the Philippines’ first star in boxing (that distinction belongs to 1920’s star Pancho Villa), but he is certainly one of the most influential. The Cebuano rose to popularity in the 1950’s and 1960 and captured world championships in the super featherweight division. Elorde retired with an unbelievable 89-27-2 professional record. 

Elorde also has the distinction of being the first Asian to be inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. 


Nonito Donaire Jr. (Boxing)

Nonito Donaire Jr. is widely considered as one of the best Filipinos to ever step inside a boxing ring. 

The Bohol-born Filipino-American is a four-division world champion, and captured the hearts of Pinoy fans because of his fast, hard-hitting, aggressive style and his wins over Vic Darchinyan (twice) and Fernando Montiel were definitely highlight reel-worthy. 

Recently, Donaire showed that he can still compete with the best as he was able to push Japanese knockout artist Naoya Inoue to the limit in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series Bantamweight Tournament. 

Donaire is expected to challenge Nordine Oubaali for the WBC Bantamweight World Champioship in the future. 

Eduard Folayang (Mixed Martial Arts)

Eduard “The Landslide” Folayang is widely regarded as the face of Philippine MMA, and it’s been that way for quite a while now. 

The Baguio City native first represented the Philippines as a member of the National Wushu Team, but eventually transitioned into MMA, becoming one of the biggest local stars of the homegrown Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) promotion, becoming the company’s welterweight champion in his first night. 

Folayang eventually became one of the pioneer stars of the Singapore-based ONE Championship, which has recently evolved into one of the world’s biggest martial arts promotions. In 2016, Folayang realized his dream of becoming a world champion, capturing the ONE Lightweight World Championship with a stunning upset win over Japanese legend Shinya Aoki. 

Folayang, now a two-time world champion, still continues to compete at the highest level today. 

Brandon Vera (Mixed Martial Arts)

Filipino-American heavyweight Brandon “The Truth” Vera became the first Pinoy-blooded star to make waves in the US MMA scene. 

The 6-foot-3 heavyweight burst onto the scene on the UFC with four straight impressive wins, including one over former world champion Frank Mir. Vera was proud of his Pinoy roots and fans were excited to see a kababayan doing well inside the Octagon. 

Vera’s career in the UFC went south after the win over Mir, but was able to rejuvenate it in 2014 after signing with ONE Championship. 

In 2015, Vera capture the promotion’s inaugural heavyweight championship, and hasn’t relinquished it since. 

Vera is considered one of ONE Championship’s biggest stars and proudly represents the Philippines every time he steps into the ONE circle. 

Mark Munoz (Mixed Martial Arts)

Following in Vera’s footsteps was Mark “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Muñoz, a collegiate wrestling star who was also able to successfully transition into MMA. 

After losing his UFC debut in 2009, Muñoz won seven of his next eight bouts, defeating the likes of Kendall Grove, Chris Leben, and former title contender Demian Maia. 

Munoz was on the cusp of a shot at the middleweight championship but ran into future champion Chris Weidman, losing via TKO. 

In 2015, at the UFC’s inaugural event in Manila, Muñoz competed in his retirement bout, defeating Luke Barnatt via unanimous decision. 

Donnie Nietes (Boxing)

Four-division world champion Donnie “Ahas” Nietes proudly holds the title of ‘longest reigning Filipino boxing world champion. The Murcia native captured the WBO Light Flyweight World Championship in October of 2011 and successfully defended it nine times until 2016 when he vacated the title moved up to flyweight. 

Nietes would go on to capture world championships in two more weight divisions (flyweight, super flyweight) and cement his legacy as one of the best Pinoy boxers ever. 

Nietes hasn’t seen action since December of 2018 however, after vacating the WBO Super Flyweight Championship to pursue big name bouts. 

Meggie Ochoa (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu)

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt Meggie Ochoa may be the smallest person in the room, but you can bet that she’s the toughest. 

A highly-decorated BJJ practitioner with more gold medals than fingers, Ochoa has topped the podium in IBJJF, JJAU, JJIF, Asian Games, and SEA Games tournaments, proudly representing the tri-colors every time she puts on her gi. 

More than her on-mat accomplishments however, Ochoa is also a fighter for various advocacies, and her biggest campaign is her Fight To Protect movement that aims to combat child sexual violence through sports. 

Mark Sangiao (Mixed Martial Arts)

You can’t mention Philippine MMA without mentioning Team Lakay, the country’s top MMA stable. In the same vein, you can’t mention Team Lakay without mentioning the man behind it all, head coach and CEO Mark Sangiao. 

Before Coach Mark became the driving force behind the Philippines’ winningest MMA stable however, he was himself a national athlete and one of the earliest stars in Philippine MMA. 

A former member of the Wushu National Team, Sangiao was able to jump over to MMA and became one of the early stars of the URCC. 

After his final bout in 2009 however, Sangiao decided hang up his 4-ounce gloves to turn his attention to molding champions. 

To date, Sangiao has coached a number of Team Lakay stars to world championships in ONE Championship and in Brave CF, including Honorio Banario, Eduard Folayang, Kevin Belingon, Geje Eustaquio, Joshua Pacio, and Stephen Loman. 

Alvin Aguilar (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu/MMA/Promotions)

You also can’t mention Philippine MMA without mentioning the man who’s widely considered as the godfather of Philippine MMA, Alvin Aguilar. 

The first homegrown Filipino Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, Aguilar has competed all over the world and recently won gold in the 2016 Asian Jiu-Jitsu Championships in Tokyo. 

Aguilar’s biggest contribution to the Philippine MMA scene however, is bringing to life the country’s first mixed martial arts promotion, the URCC. 

Throughout it’s near-two decade existence, the URCC has given multiple Pinoy MMA fighters their big breaks, including Many of Team Lakay’s stars, as well as the likes of Caloy Baduria, Red Romero, Chris Hofmann, Alvin Ramirez, and many others. 

Aguilar is also the founding father of DEFTAC, the Philippines’ biggest MMA and Jiu-Jitsu academy. 

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