Meet Onassis Parungao, the first Filipino to compete in the UFC
ABS-CBN Sports on Jul 01, 2020 04:12 PM
Onassis Parungao competed in UFC 7 back in 1995 (Photo: Cheng Yee Kung Fu School on Facebook)
Most Filipino mixed martial arts fans know of Mark Muñoz and Brandon Vera, arguably the two most popular Pinoy-blooded fighters to compete in the UFC.
More avid fans will know of the likes of Dave Galera, Roldan Sangcha-an, and Mark Eddiva, a trio of Team Lakay standouts who all made it onto the Octagon.
More recently, local stars like Rolando Dy, Jenel Lausa, and CJ De Tomas all proudly wore the Philippines’ colors on their UFC kits.
The distinction of being the first-ever Filipino blooded fighter to compete in the UFC however, belongs to one Onassis Parungao.
Born in Spain to a father from Baliuag, Bulacan and a mother from Spain, Parungao grew up in the United States and competed at UFC 7 back in 1995, defeating Francesco Maturi by strikes in the first round.
Speaking on The Hitlist vodcast, Parungao shed some light on how he got on to the UFC during the early days of MMA.
Parungao, who was 24 years old at the time, studied Tung Kung Kalan or Arnis de Mano before taking up Judo, wrestling, and Kung Fu.
“I was watching it and you know back then, because of the rules and no weight classes, no gloves, I was doing- you know got in a lot of street fights being a Navy kid,” Parungao explained. “So I have that sill here (motions to chest), I wanna get out and I wanna do it, and then I realized ‘Hey maybe I can try that.’”
Parungao also admitted that he was hoping that his heritage could somehow help him earn a spot in the tournament.
“To tell you the truth, I knew that there wasn’t a Filipino guy there so I was banking on that 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, they didn’t just have one to apply, so I saw an opportunity, we wrote a letter and I took it.”
In his lone UFC appearance, Parungao took to the Octagon wearing a white shirt that had “Philippines” on the back.
Back then, when the UFC was still starting, one of the things that they did to hype up the competitors was to “exaggerate” their records and accomplishments, so to speak. Parungao was billed as a “Pintakasi champion”.
“I’m not a Pintakasi champion, my teacher was,” Parungao clarified. “But I think they said certain things to hype the fighters up. I wanna get that on record, that I never claimed to be that.”
Following his UFC win, Parungao went on to compete two more times, before retiring quite early in his career. Parungao explained that he had received offers to compete in Japan for the legendary Pancrase promotion, but the distractions outside of competition ultimately dissuaded him from doing so.
“I just got married and then there was this guy named Takeya Oitate, the guy was offering me contracts and money to come and fight in Pancrase and all that stuff, and I’m like I kinda wanna do it, but in Japan, you have bathhouses, there’s girls there and I’ll be fighting and stuff like that, and in my early 20s, all these testosterone, I just got married you know, you’re gonna put me around other fighters and girls and all this other stuff? Like, no way. I didn’t wanna do that.”
Parungao continued to compete in kickboxing tournaments, but admits to having regrets over calling it a career after just three professional MMA bouts.
“Yes, I have some regrets, I do,” he said. “I’m 50 now, but I still feel really strong, you know. I mean, put me in a match against another 50-year-old, that would be fair.”
“But to answer your question, I’ve done all these Filipino martial arts, I’ve done all this fighting, I’ve done all this sparring, I was a fighter first and then my Sifu for Chinese martial arts turned me into a martial artist. I don’t wanna say that made me lesser, it just turned me into someone that didn’t need to prove it as much. But I do have some regrets like I feel like I could, you know I never stop training, I still will go to a gym and spar and roll with guys and just like MMA has evolved and improved, so have I,” Parungao added.
Parungao remains a martial artist to this day, as he owns and operates the Cheng Yee Kung Fu School in Southeastern Connecticut.