Photos from ONE Championship and BRAVE CF

Filipino mixed martial arts fighters experienced their highs and lows of their career in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic that put the sporting world at a standstill.

ONE Championship’s trip to the Philippines last January 31 became the first and last visit of the Singapore-based promotion in the country this year before deciding to postpone the fights on an audience-free and closed-door setup.

In ONE: Fire & Fury, reigning strawweight king Joshua Pacio of Team Lakay defended his title against former champion Alex Silva of Brazil in front of the proud Filipino crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

Pacio, who holds a 17-3 record, later on, became the lone Filipino to land spots on ESPN’s Under-25 (No. 24) and long-time combat sports publication Black Belt Magazine’s list of top MMA fighters.

ONE strawweight champion Joshua Pacio (Photo from ONE Championship)

Team Lakay stalwarts Lito Adiwang (11-3), No. 2 flyweight Danny Kingad (14-2), atomweight contender Gina Iniong (9-4) and former champions Honorio Banario (15-10) and Geje Eustaquio (14-8) emerged victorious while the Zamboanga siblings — Denice (5-0) and Drex (9-5) — made a huge leap in the MMA scene.

Read: Future looks bright for flyweight standout Drex Zamboanga

In no time, ONE Championship eventually managed to hold safe events with strict health protocols. Then the Bahrain-based MMA promotion BRAVE Combat Federation also resumed operation in the second half of the year despite the surging cases of COVID-19 globally.

Photo from BRAVE CF

Rolando Dy, son of Filipino boxing icon and former world champion Rolando Navarette, was named Fighter of the Year by BRAVE after an impressive showing in the lightweight division.

After suffering two knockout defeats as a featherweight last year, Dy’s decision to scale up to lightweight came to fruition and took home two decisive wins for the Philippines to improve at 14-9 record.

Despite missing out on a fight this year, BRAVE CF’s bantamweight king Stephen Loman of Team Lakay (13-2) is still the longest-reigning champion on the international scene while Filipino-American Brandon Vera (16-8), who last saw action in October 2019, wants to take on new heavyweight challengers for his third title defense in ONE Championship.

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Filipino-American Brandon Vera (Photo from ONE Championship)

The coronavirus pandemic also took a huge toll on the fighters’ preparation as gyms were ordered to close down early this year due to implemented lockdowns and quarantines. The likes of Team Lakay in Benguet and Catalan Fighting System in Makati were forced to halt operations which caused limited training to athletes.

Read: ‘Mahirap pa kami sa daga’: Catalan shares struggles amid COVID-19 pandemic

“Number one sa atin economically, sa atin bumagsak lahat. Pati sa atleta natin, nawalan sila ng mga trabaho,” Team Lakay coach Mark Sangiao told Manila Bulletin in a recent interview. “Although may mga training pa rin, matagal nawala ‘yung mga competition ng mga atleta natin. Mahirap ‘yung adjustment para sa kanila.”

Photo from ONE Championship

And then there were those who had a fair share of setbacks in the year that was full of adversities.

Two-time lightweight champion Eduard Folayang (22-10) suffered two straight defeats, former bantamweight titleholder Kevin Belingon (20-8) fell at the “Hands of Stone” John Lineker, and former No. 5 strawweight Adiwang saw his seven-match win-streak since 2016 crumble into pieces.

Read: ‘Only a bruised ego’: All is well for Belingon despite third straight loss

It was an unfortunate year for the teacher and student as Rene Catalan (6-4) and Jomary Torres (5-4) of Catalan Fighting System stumbled against undefeated rising stars early this month.

Catalan absorbed a knockout loss over strawweight contender Bokang Masunyane of South Africa while Torres, who had a no-contest bout last January, yielded to Ritu Phogat of India via technical knockout.

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Photo from UFC Europe’s Twitter account

Fil-Kiwi Mark Abelardo (19-8) also lost twice this year in ONE Championship while Fil-Am Mark Striegl (18-3), the 2019 Southeast Asian Games sambo gold medalist, had a dose of reality in his UFC debut last October in Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island after being crushed by Russian foe Said Nurmagomedov. 

Source: Manila Bulletin (