Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Filipino MMA fighter in the ONE FC

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The Filipino MMA fighter in the ONE FC
by rick olivares

Brandon Vera’s spectacular 26-second first round knockout of Paul Cheng to claim the inaugural Heavyweight Belt during ONE FC: Spirit of Champions last night at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City saved what was an event overshadowed by the pullout of the original contender for the title bout and the off-cage death of a Chinese fighter. 

Vera’s victory also rescued what could have been another miserable outing by the home team in a ONE FC event in Manila as three of the five fighters succumbed to defeat. 

Ruel Catalan submitted to Alex Silva in the first round, dropping him to a miserable 2-7 record. Catalan won his ONE FC debut at Moment of Truth but has since lost three consecutive matches. 

Ana Julaton bowed to Russian Irina Mazepa via unanimous decision as the former women’s boxing champion was bloodied and unable to mount any serious offense. 

Mark Streigl lost in a shocking upset to Australian Reece McLaren via rear-naked choke. McLaren was a last minute replacement for the original opponent who got injured during training. 

Eugene Toquero inflicted on Chinese striker Li Wei Bin his first loss in four fights as the visitor refused to answer the call for the third round. Toquero put on a beating on Li even as his punches lacked serious knockout power by second round’s end.

And there was Vera’s thrilling knockout on Cheng who paid for a missed strike by getting caught flush on the face that was followed up by a kick that dumped him to the canvas.

Overall, the “homecourt” hasn’t exactly been an advantage for the Filipino fighters in events held at the Smart Araneta Coliseum and the MOA Arena.

In seven ONE FC events held in Manila since August of 2012, there have been 34 matches that has featured a Filipino fighter. However, two of them saw a Filipino face a fellow Filipino so against foreign competition, the home side has a 18-14 record.

The worst ever outing was the second ONE FC event, Rise to Power that was anything but one as the Pinoys fell, 0-5, in a shocking shutout. Spirit of Champions was the other event where the locals posted a losing record, 2-3. 

No other local fighter has fought in a ONE FC cage more than Honorio Banario (8-6). The Baguio native brought a 6-0 record into the ONE FC with all his wins coming in the URCC. He lost his first fight in ONE FC then rebounded with two wins one of which was against compatriot Eric Kelly. Following that win, he has lost five straight sending his MMA career into serious doubt. 

Kevin Belingon, Banario’s Team Lakay buddy, also brought in a stellar 9-0 record with six of them coming in the URCC. Since coming to the ONE FC, he is 4-4. 

Eduard Folayang is another top local fighter who came into the ONE FC with an 11-1 record. In the ONE FC, he’s 3-4. 

Geje Eustaquio is 3-3.

Eric Kelly is one of the few Filipino fighters with a winning ONE FC record. Kelly has an overall MMA record of 12-1 but is 5-1 in the ONE FC. His lone loss was to Banario although Kelly points out that he submitted due to an eye injury.

Toquero brought a 5-0 record to ONE FC. Toquero who made a name for himself with PxC has a 3-2 record in ONE FC.

Vera is 2-0.

ONE FC Chief Executive Officer Victor Cui believes it is all about exposure. “There are a lot of talented Filipino fighters,” he said. “They just need exposure. The more you fight compete against international talent, you get a firm grip on styles and technique. Filipinos like the striking game but there’s more to MMA than striking.”

“I think it is a massive advantage for us to fight in front of the homecrowd,” shared Julaton a day before her fight with Mazepa. “The home fans give a boost. But people have to remember we are fighting against some tough folks so nothing is easy. I’d love nothing more than to give the local fans something to cheer about but MMA is 50-50."

Talking to ONE FC and former UFC fighter Kamal Shalorus who took down Folayang in ONE FC: Rise to Power, the Iranian said that he believes there’s a lot of talent in the Philippines. “You have so many good fighters. You just need more exposure as well as to adapt more skills. In my country of Iran or in others like the United States, wrestling is something we get into an a young age. In MMA, you need to have good takedown and mat defense if you want a chance of winning."

Veteran MMA writer James Goyder shared his thoughts, "A lot of the Filipino fighters came into ONE FC with really strong records, but without having really faced top calibre opponents. If you look at the guys Eustaquio, Folayang, Belingon and Banario fought before ONE FC none of them were in the same class as Shalorus, Masakatsu Ueda, Adriano Moraes and Jadamba Narantungalag. It's a big step up, and I think the fact that Filipino fighters are winning more fights than they are losing is a positive."

Added Goyer, "It depends whether you want to see Filipinos smashing overmatched opponents on home soil, or whether you want to see them being tested against the top guys in the division. If you fight the top guys you aren't going to win every time, but when Belingon beats Koetsu Okazaki or Toquero beats Gianni Subba, or Folayang beats Kotetsu Boku the crowd appreciate it because they know that their hometown fighter has beaten a worthy opponent. I don't think it would be the same feeling if these fighters were winning every time but beating opponents who no-one had ever heard of.”

Summed up Vera who is the second Filipino champion after Banario held the Featherweight Championship in 2013, “We’re well represented in the MMA world today, bro. And that’s a good start."

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