CHAMPIONS RISE | MMA year-end report

Eduard Folayang's One lightweight title win headlined 2016 in Philippine MMA. One Championship (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

THE year that past turned out to be a banner year for Philippine MMA. Although the Filipino fight fans missed out on another UFC event due to an injury on BJ Penn, the cage remained open for 2016, and that saw two new champs, the resurgence of the pioneering local MMA league, and another UFC player rising. Here's our recap of the MMA year that was.

The URCC's back!

Well, the URCC actually didn't fold, but the arrival of major MMA promotions PXC, One Championship, UFC, and WSOF somehow overshadowed what the so-called "Asia's most exciting MMA league" has done in recent years.

But thanks to a new broadcast partner in ABSCBN, the URCC surged again.

While the promotion's recent promotional stunts, the grudge match between Baron Geisler and Kiko Matos that turned out to be just part of the script for their upcoming movie and a three-on-three showdown, drew flak from fans, Alvin Aguilar and the rest of the URCC's higher ups remained unfazed and are now setting their sights for this year, where they will begin going out of the Philippines for more MMA action. More on that later.

Another top MMA outfit enters PH

The World Series of Fighting entered the Asian MMA mega-cage through WSOF Global, and it quickly made its presence felt in WSOF-GC 3 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City on July 30.

Although the crowd turnout was not that as big as the One and UFC events, WSOF did not disappoint in bringing world-class MMA action.

WSOF continues to grow its non-US fanbase through new tie-ups, and with the WSOF Global owner being a Filipina, staging another event in the Philippines should not be a surprise.

New faces

Enter Joshua Pacio, Danny Kingad, and CJ De Tomas.

The two newest sensations to come out of the fabled Lakay stable and URCC's new star on the rise etched their names in the cage this past year.

Pacio, who entered One Championship unscathed, scored two quick victories upon his arrival, putting him quickly at a world title shot against Yoshitaka Naito.

Naito would keep the One strawweight title after a Pacio blunder gave him an opening for his game-winning rear naked choke, but the future is still bright for Pacio.

Kingad, on the other hand, also got back-to-back victories when he came to One. Both wins happened right in front of his home country crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.

Also, De Tomas, who only aimed at avenging his dad's loss to Hideo Morikawa, became URCC's hottest prospect after beating Morikawa for the URCC men's flyweight belt and eventually defending it against Alvin Ramirez.

Lausa rises

The past year was definitely a great year for Jenel Lausa.

Last January, Lausa became the PXC flyweight champion after sneaking out a split decision win over Crisanto Pipitunge.

However, it was a one-and-done deal for Lausa as he had to relinquish the belt to formally enter the UFC.

Lausa still showcased his championship pedigree--plus an improved ground game--in his UFC debut, downing Yao Zhikui by unanimous decision last November.

Lausa is currently preparing for his UFC return, and he may even go to America to train according to his coaching staff.

A two-division champ

Pipitunge actually failed in his bid to become the first Filipino two-division MMA champ, something that Chris Hofmann completed at URCC 28 last November.

Hofmann made history in style.

Hofmann did not just win MMA titles in two separate divisions, he held both belts simultaneously too!

Hofmann, who came in as the URCC welterweight champ, bagged the middleweight belt as well.

Hofmann is set to defend his middleweight title at URCC's San Francisco invasion on Jan. 8 (Philippine Time).

The grand coronation

Arguably the top MMA story of the year.

The year 2016 saw four Filipinos being crowned as new MMA champs, but nothing was more special than Eduard Folayang's One lightweight title conquest.

Folayang made a huge giant-slaying after knocking out erstwhile champion Shinya Aoki in Singapore on Nov. 12.

The big upset not just solidified Folayang's status as the face of Philippine MMA but also made him One's Fighter of the Year.

Folayang may likely headline One's return to the MOA Arena in April.

What's next for Philippine MMA?

This year is the start of the URCC's reach expansion, starting with the Jan. 8 (Philippine Time) event in San Francisco.

Hofmann, De Tomas, and Geli Bulaong will be defending their belts against separate foes.

Also, the two visits of One to the MOA Arena have been set.

Folayang, as aforementioned, wanted to defend his belt in front of his fellow Filipinos, which could likely be granted.

Pacio's road to redemption also begins this year, while Brandon Vera, who successfully defended his One heavyweight title last month, is also expected to be part of either of the two fight cards.

Likewise, Lausa's UFC road continues this year with a fight likely to be set this first quarter.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno