The Lasting Legacy of UFC's First Trip to the Philippines

Fightland Blog

By Peter Carroll

Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images

UFC made their first visit to the Philippines on Saturday with an event that will be remembered for a variety of reasons. The event boasted the retirement party of a man who pioneered the sport in the nation, a super fight that was years in the making, an alternative time slot and we were never going to let some dodgy decisions get in the way of that party. 

Mark Munoz eyes filled with the passion he has shown throughout his career as he took his last walk to the Octagon in Manila. Despite being put away in the first round of his last three tests, "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" put on a display that will insure he made a lasting impression on his people, which he had told FIGHTLAND was his intention in the lead up to the bout.

It was vintage stuff from the former Reign Training Center head coach as he caught the Englishman with powerful overhand rights in between rag dolling him to the canvas. The pep that was initially in the step of ‘Bigslow’ had completely disappeared as the second round got underway.

Had it not been for Barnatt’s long limbs, Munoz might have been able to dispatch some of his patented ‘Donkey Kong’ ground and pound to bring the bout to a close. The 15 fight UFC veteran’s tear jerking farewell in the Octagon, leaving his gloves in the middle of the platform, will be remembered by all as the most captivating moment of the night, despite the fact that two all-time greats met in the main event.

Frankie Edgar showed once again why it is so hard to beat him when he finally squared off with Urijah Faber. Although Faber was every bit the Tom’s River native’s equal throughout the fight, the former lightweight champion managed to do enough to win each round by a small margin.

The Tom’s River native became the first man to ever beat "The California Kid" in a bout where there was no belt on the line, and in doing so, he underlined his claims to Jose Aldo’s title. There have been cries of UFC’s wrongdoing as the promotion announced Conor McGregor as the next man in line to the Brazilian’s word title, and the win over Faber will only help Edgar’s bid for contention.

Photo by Mitch Viquez/Zuffa LLC

It was a huge fight for the Filipino fans to get for their first UFC show and one that will clearly reverberate with the fan base. To add to that, they also got to see another one of the modern greats in Gegard Mousasi and arguably the most impressive performance of Neil Magny’s career as he increased his win streak to 7-0.

The early, early time slot may have put fans on the west coast out a bit, but on the east coast and in Europe, everybody seemed pretty happy with how it panned out. It was coffee, eggs and bacon o’clock for those on the east coast while the Europeans tucked into a bit of lunch as the event got underway. There is a novelty to watching UFC events so early in the day, we’ve only had the pleasure of enjoying similar slots on a few occasions. As far as I can tell from social media, the majority of fans seemed happy with the scheduling of the event, so let’s hope for some more of that further down the line.

There were a few decisions that forced a few to scratch their heads on the night, not an uncommon occurrence by any means for an MMA event. Certainly on my card, Nolan Ticman took each round against China’s Yao Zhikui, and judging by the reaction of others, I wasn’t the only once who was surprised when the decision was read out in favor of Zhikui. A Chinese fighter getting the decision many felt he had lost in Asia, there was some obvious citations of bias doing the rounds.

Then came Filipino-American Phillipe Nover’s decision win over Yui Chul Nam. Granted, it wasn’t as one sided as the curtain raiser between Ticman and Zhikui, but it seemed as though Nam would had taken two rounds to Nover’s one before the decision was read out in favor of the returning New Yorker. Such was the outrage at some of the decisions that some jokingly pondered whether Costas Philippou would get the nod after Mousasi completely outclassed him over three rounds. By no means did the judges ruin the night though, but certainly the two decisions mentioned are noteworthy.

Photo by Mitch Viquez/Zuffa LLC

In the lead up to their meeting on the night, both Mark Munoz and Luke Barnatt commented on the growth of MMA in the Philippines. According to Barnatt, after Manny Pacquiao hangs up his gloves the majority of the Filipino people are ready to make to jump across to MMA to find their next national hero.

“Manny Pacquiao is a superstar out here,” said Barnatt. “He’s everywhere, there are literally posters of him everywhere you go. Every Filipino fan I’ve talked to has been adamant that once Manny retires, boxing is over for them. They’re all ready to make the leap to MMA, so it really is a huge emerging market out here.”

Munoz mirrored his opponent’s sentiments:

“MMA is very popular in the Philippines now. There’s a channel that plays fights all the time, they replay every UFC fight so it’s on the TV quite a bit. People are watching and UFC in particular seems to be something that the Filipino people love.

“Combat sports have always been a major part of the Filipino culture so I never had any doubts that the people would gravitate toward the sport out here.  Young people have aspirations to be mixed martial artists out here. I’m very excited about that.”

There is no doubt that UFC’s first trip to their new Filipino market was a success and having a national icon like Munoz speak of his admiration for the brand on the night certainly won’t work against them on their new terrain. There is no denying the country’s love affair with combat sports, so this could be the beginning of a prosperous relationship with the Philippines for the world’s flagship MMA promotion. 


Check out these related stories:

A Near Sweep: China's Fighters Shine in Manila

Mark Muñoz Retires the Right Way

Frankie Edgar: The Textbook of MMA Striking