The Asia Report: URCC Emerges As MMA Pioneer In The Philippines
By Steve Sadoka
Every story has a beginning and when Filipino fighters Eric Kelly and Eduard Folayang announced themselves to the MMA world with emphatic wins at the inaugural ONE FC event, it was the culmination of almost a decade’s work by two promoters in the Philippines.
Husband and wife team Bubbles and Alvin Aguilar founded Universal Reality Combat Challenge (URCC) back in 2002 and it has gone on to become a powerful grass roots promotion.
If you are an ambitious mixed martial artist in the Philippines, then you go to fight for the URCC. Folayang and Kelly are at the forefront of a veritable conveyor belt of Filipino talent, which is just waiting to burst onto the international stage.
Both men hold URCC belts, which have become increasingly prestigious items since the Philippine’s first MMA promotion was founded nine years ago. Bubbles recalls the early roots of the organization, which is now known all across the country,
“The URCC started in 2002. Alvin, who has been a martial artist since he was young, had always wanted to put up an MMA promotion having seen how the UFC was growing. At that time, he was also a blue belt under UFC legend Royce Gracie and was also already known in the martial arts community in the country so it was a good time for him to stage an event.”
The formation of the URCC was timely in more ways than one as a huge crowd turned out in Paranaque City to watch an incredible 19 fights of action,
“Our first event was held on Nov 23, 2002 at the Casino Filipino and we were shocked at the response,” said, Bubbles. “We had about 5,000 attendees and the place was packed. The rest, as they say, is history.”
The fact that Bubbles and Alvin were able to get their hands on 38 fighters as far back as 2002 shows that the Philippines has long been leading the way when it comes to interest in MMA amongst South Asian countries.
Out of those 19 fights only one went the distance and five finished inside a minute which would indicate that there was a bit of a disparity in terms of the ability amongst the fighters on show that night. Fast forward to 2011 and there is no such thing as an easy fight inside the URCC, Filipino people love MMA and as a result the standard is far higher than anyone would imagine.
Kelly is the URCC Featherweight champion and has a perfect record of 6-0 while Folayang is the URCC Welterweight champion and is currently at 10-1. Anyone wondering whether remaining unbeaten in the Philippines was really that impressive an achievement got a definitive answer at One FC.
The bookmakers had Kelly’s fight with Mitch Chilson dead even. The URCC Featherweight champion was more experienced but his much vaunted opponent trains at Evolve MMA, a no expense spared state of the art facility in Singapore, which has established a reputation as the premier camp in Asia.
By contrast, Kelly’s team was given as “Yaw Yaw Ardigma,” a name which few people outside of the Philippines could pronounce, let alone recognize. The general feeling was that Chilson’s team of trainers, which included a who’s who of former Muay Thai champions and BJJ Mundials winners, would have no problem preparing him to defeat an opponent who had never even fought outside of the Philippines.
In front of a partisan crowd which was packed to the rafters with Evolve MMA students Kelly made a massive statement, both about his own ability and the standard of fighters the URCC is producing, by submitting Chilson with a rear naked choke which he set up from a standing position.
Later that night Folayang, who had already established a name for himself on the international stage with three wins at Martial Combat in 2010, outworked a much more experienced opponent in A Sol Kwon to claim victory in the main event.
The response to One FC has been phenomenal and fight fans all over the globe watched the inaugural show on an internet stream. The event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium was a seminal moment in the history of Asian MMA, and yet the question most people were asking each other the following day was ‘how good were those Filipino fighters?’
Both Folayang and Kelly are expected to be back in action soon but, according to Bubbles, there is plenty more talent where they came from,
“We have Kevin Belingon who just keeps getting better and better. Roy Docyogen if given the chance would definitely put on a good show. Another fighter who we’re very excited about is Jessie Rafols. This guy is vicious! Ever since he lost his first match to Roy Docyogen at pinweight, he has gone up to bantamweight and hasn’t lost a single match. His ground skills are pretty sick, his striking is superb and his overall endurance and mentality is just awesome.”
When Bubbles talks about these fighters, she is not just throwing names out at random. Belingon is the reigning URCC Flyweight Champion. He is 9-0 and has already fought in Singapore and Hong Kong. Docyogen is the URCC Pinweight Champion and is 9-0 having stopped seven out of his nine opponents.
The talent that is coming through the URCC does not end there and, Bubbles reels off a few more names that she feels could be destined for stardom.
“Honorio Banario from Team Lakay Wushu is our current Lightweight Champ, he has great takedowns, strong kicks and endurance,” she points out. “Ali Khatibi, our former featherweight champion is a good candidate also. He’s a blue belt in BJJ and had very good conditioning and a very good Muay Thai base. Former flyweight champ Richard Lasprilla who is a purple belt in BJJ and has excellent boxing and Muay Thai and Froilan Sarenas our middleweight champ who is also a purple belt in BJJ and can definitely hold his own standing up.”
Banario only made his professional debut in 2010 but is already 5-0 and has stopped every fighter he has ever faced. Froilen Sarenas is 2-0 with two first round submission victories while fighters like 4-0 flyweight George Lusadan, who has also submitted all four of his opponents, barely even merit a mention.
In almost any other country, an MMA fighter with a record as impressive as Lusadan’s would be being hailed as the next big thing, but in the Philippines he is just one of an enormous number of outstanding fighters making a name for themselves in the URCC.
It has been an incredible journey for the URCC which is currently on course to put on its 50th event in 2012. According to Bubbles, though, none of it would have been possible without the support of the passionate Filipino fans.
“I’m not really surprised by how successful the URCC has been because we all know that MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world in the past two decades. The word would probably be ‘overwhelmed.’ We are so overwhelmed by the growing support of the Filipino fight fans for the URCC and the sport.”