Filipinos have always had an innate affinity with sports. Pinoys young and old have a tendency of gravitating towards competition and there's nothing that captures the pulse of the people more than combat sports.
Take boxing for instance, everyone knows how the nation literally comes to a screeching halt every time Manny Pacquiao steps inside the ring. Judging from him alone, the Philippines have already made a reputation of producing world class fighters.
However, there is one contact sport that has been making huge strides in gathering Filipino fighters and fight fans alike, Mixed Martial Arts. The sport means literally what its name suggests, it's a combination of every imaginable combat disciplines applied in a no holds barred competition.
Using a mix of striking and grappling, fighters aim to either submit or knock out their opponent. It's a simple concept, one that has also been observed by countless civilizations past. "It's so natural. Even before there were any types of games with rules, opponents would fight and people would come and watch for enjoyment as well as war and sports," explains EJ Calvo, general manager of MMA promotion Pacific Xtreme Combat (PXC).
The buzz on MMA began when the Universal Fighting Championships (UFC) started gaining popularity among local fight aficionados. And ever since the first Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) event was held back in 2002, the sport of MMA in the Philippines has grown by leaps and bounds.
However, it was when international fight promoters like the PXC came in the country that revolutionized how local fighters approached the game. Only by competing against foreign fighters and getting exposed to different styles and techniques did local MMA practitioners progress and evolve.
"I think it was just a matter of time. After competing against international talents that brought different skills to the mix, they started to understand that you have to be well-rounded in this sport. That's why it's so fun to watch," Calvo explained.
Originally an MMA promotion based in Guam, PXC expanded its operations here in the Philippines back in 2011 and has since witnessed the sport's meteoric rise locally. Currently, over 30 percent of the fighters under contract with PXC are Filipinos.
As proof of the growing popularity of the sport in the country, the number of MMA gyms in Manila as well as in other regions has steadily increased. These fight dens have become estuaries of local talents looking for a place to hone their skills and interact with athletes that share the same passion.
Although famous teams are situated within the Greater Manila Area, like Submission Sport Philippines in Pasig and Full Contact International in Makati, fight hubs have been setting up shop all over the country. Regional gyms like Fightworks MMA in Laguna, Beefit Python's Pit in Davao, and the Legacy Gym in Boracay have produced equally talented and often more competitive fighters. However, because of the sheer number of international fighters and champions it has produced, Team Lakay based in Baguio City is arguably the most successful MMA gym in the country.
"Malaki na talaga ang improvement ng MMA dito sa Pilipinas," shares Davao born PXC Flyweight Champion Ali Cale. Although purists would disagree, MMA has the capacity to one day overtake some of the more conventional combat sports, as former boxer Cale admits. "Sabi ng karamihan nawawala na ang boxing, at nakita ko din na may katotohanan yung sinasabi nila. Kaya nga hindi na ako nagpatuloy ng boxing dahil sa MMA," the fighter shared.
Although we won't be seeing any uprising in the near future, there is no denying that Philippine MMA is definitely on the rise. So what is it between Filipinos and MMA that makes them a perfect combination? "I think Filipinos are a passionate people and have a lot of heart," says Filipino-American fighter Mark Striegl. "Filipinos have a good knack for combat sports in general. It's embedded in the culture and I think it's just a matter of time before MMA really takes off in the Philippines," he adds.
While there's no telling what the future holds for the sport, current trends and educated projections suggest that MMA is definitely on its way up. Fight conversations have become irrelevant without the topic of MMA thrown into the mix. With the way it captures audiences, the different disciplines involved, and the complex nature of the sport, there is simply no stopping MMA from gaining ground among Filipino consciousness.