Who do you want to see inside the Octagon?
The UFC returns to the Philippines with another UFC Fight Night on October 15, 2016. This is the second year in a row that the world’s premier mixed martial arts promotion is visiting the country, preceded by the massive success of their first outing headlined by former UFC lightweight champion Frankie “The Answer” Edgar and perennial bantamweight contender Urijah “The California Kid” Faber last May 2015.
Just like any UFC Fight Night card held outside the US, a healthy representation of local and regional talent is always welcome. So we did our due diligence to compile a list of top prospects in the local and regional MMA circuit who we have personally witnessed inside the cage. This list includes those who have publicly expressed their desire to compete in the UFC, as well as fighters whose current contracts allow them to transition to the said promotion without any legal impediments.
Carlo Laurel and Alvin Ramirez
Alvin “Kastigo” Ramirez and Carlo “Samurai” Laurel engaged in a war inside the URCC cage last April that saw Ramirez victorious with a third-round TKO via doctor stoppage. Ramirez is as close to a real-life Tekken fighter as can be; and Laurel, a fighter known for his crafty grappling, surprised everyone when he decided to stand and bang with his Yaw-Yan Buhawi opponent. But both fighters’ worth goes beyond what they can give and receive inside the cage. These guys know what hype is all about.
With ONE Championship, PXC, and the URCC all holding events in Manila last April, a Nielsen TV viewing survey revealed that the URCC was the most watched MMA event that month, even surpassing UFC 197: Jones vs Saint Preux. We’d like to think that this was largely because of Carlo Laurel’s pre-fight antics rubbing Alvin Ramirez the wrong way, and the two engaging in an all-out Facebook war that led people to take notice. While some die-hard MMA purists disapprove of Laurel’s hype mechanism, MMA promotions are in the business of selling fights, and Carlo Laurel was the URCC’s golden goose in building interest for their April fight card.
We casually chatted with Laurel and Ramirez, and as per Laurel, his contract stipulates that once the UFC comes knocking, the URCC will allow him to compete for the US-based promotion. We believe the same holds true for Ramirez and another top prospect from the URCC. In that same conversation, Laurel called out Ramirez to tango a second time around – this time inside the Octagon.
Kwan Ho Kwak
TOP FC and PXC bantamweight champion Kwak Kwan Ho is clamoring for a chance to compete inside the Octagon. “I am ready for the UFC, and I want to make my debut in October in the Philippines,” the South Korean known as “Handsome” writes on Facebook. Not a stranger to the Filipino MMA crowd, Kwak dominated former champ Kyle Aguon across five rounds both in the stand up and on the ground.
Kwak trains under Dongjin Ha in Korean Top Team, known for being the original team of “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung. With a team that has worked with the UFC in the past, Kwak can be properly guided on the nuances and inner workings before stepping inside the grandest stage of all, and be assured of an experienced corner when the bell rings.
Jenel Lausa is the current PXC flyweight champion. Dubbed “The Demolition Man”, Lausa took out surging fellow Filipino Ernesto Montilla , then outlasted perennial contender Crisanto Pitpitunge to win the vacant PXC title last January. Lausa is currently part of the Black Unicorn Gym, training alongside elite fighters Eric Kelly, Rolando Gabriel Dy, and Isaiah Ordiz. And if John Dodson’s recent media tour is any indication, Lausa was tapped to roll with the former UFC flyweight contender during the latter’s open workout at Robinson’s Place Manila.
Speaking with “The Bandit” Zebaztian Kadestam after his 11-second destruction of Glenn Sparv last April, the Swedish fighter had but one message to the world’s premier MMA promotion, “Hey, UFC, what’s up? I believe it’s my time.” So, as soon as UFC Manila was announced, the current PXC welterweight champion took to social media to campaign for a fight this October, “Got four wins in the first round in Manila; let me get No. 5 in the Octagon.”
Known for his devastating kicks and knockout power, the Legacy Gym Boracay standout moves between training in the Philippines and his native country of Sweden. His approach to fighting is very cerebral: calm and collected throughout the match, ready to exploit a weakness whenever he senses it. Just asked Ronald Jhun how his legs felt when Kadestam repeatedly blasted him with leg kicks until he went limp.
Rolando Gabriel Dy
His dynamic striking prowess and swagger – in addition to the constant shadow cast on him by the legacy of his world boxing champion father – instantly made him a polarizing figure inside the PXC cage. After dropping two fights against then PXC bantamweight champion Kyle Aguon, Dy had to reassess which weight class his future in the fight business rests.
Realizing how dropping down to the bantamweight limit was a harder fight for him than the one actually fought inside the cage, he moved up to 145 lbs, debuting to a unanimous decision victory against Miguel Mosquera last January. Even though he dominated the fight, he still received heat for the way he taunted his opponent, ultimately apologizing and explaining to everyone that it was his way of loosening himself up.
He made a quick return to face undefeated knockout artist Koyomi Matsushima in April, and when he knocked the Japanese out in 23 seconds, he composed himself to be gracious in victory. It is no secret that since the start of his fighting career Dy had been juggling school with his training. Graduating from the Lyceum this year, a more mature Dy is now laser focused on his MMA career.
Will “The Kill” Chope was a one-time UFC veteran who fell victim to now top contender Max Holloway. “Honestly, the only show I want to be exclusive for is the UFC,” Will told us in one of the more intimate interviews we did with a fighter. “I really do hope I can make my way back inside the Octagon someday.”
Also known as “The Busiest Fighter on the Planet”, Will explained why he was fighting whenever he can, racking up an insane 32-10 record in less than six years, on top of the Muay Thai fights he was also accepting left and right. “I don’t have a real job. Literally the only way I make money is if I fight,” he confided. “If I don’t fight, me and my family don’t have enough money to live.”
Starting his career with an awful 1-4 record, he’s been 31-6 since then, and considering his fight schedule, that’s pretty incredible. Now fighting at 155 lbs, Will has cut down on his pedal-to-the-metal approach to fighting which earned him the moniker “Lanky Madness”, evidenced by his methodical dissection of Richie Redman in last April’s URCC lightweight title match. Literally a nomad of the fight game, here’s to Chope returning to his home in the UFC.
CJ De Tomas
Finally, if there’s any local fighter more deserving of becoming a UFC fighter, it’s the “Goldenboy” CJ De Tomas. We cannot say enough good things about this prospect. The kid is a hard worker, an intelligent fighter, a complete fighter, he possesses the most explosive takedowns we’ve seen among Filipino fighters, and ever since he’s set his sights on the UFC. “Sabi ko nung nagsa-start palang ako, ‘…pag nasa 20’s na ako, nasa UFC na ako,’” De Tomas told us in a prior interview.
An undefeated 6-0 fighter, De Tomas out-wrestled Hideo Morikawa across 25 minutes to take the URCC flyweight title from the Japanese veteran. He owns his own MMA and Muay Thai gym, but continues to train in affiliate gyms, in particular sharpening his BJJ under third-degree black belt Stephen Kamphuis. Now a blue belt, De Tomas effectively incorporated this with his national wrestling experience to manifest one of the most beautiful, technical ground game we’ve seen.
Many pundits are pointing to Filipino fighters’ seeming disadvantage on the ground. Should De Tomas be signed to the UFC, we’re hoping he can change that perception altogether.
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