What Lies Ahead for MMA in the Philippines

by: Derek Sandoval

Derek is a diehard Mixed Martial Arts fan. He’s been a great source of anecdotes whenever there’s a big fight event in town. But being a fan doesn’t prevent him from coming up with a level-headed assessment on MMA’s future in the country. Here’s his take on the recent UFC offering in the wild and wicked MOA super-stadium last May 16. 

The UFC couldn’t be happier with the sold-out attendance of UFC Fight Night: Edgar vs Faber. But still, much remains to seen as to whether the MMA culture will further develop in Asia, let along in the Philippines.  But still, much remains to be seen as to whether the MMA culture will further develop in Asia, let alone in the Philippines. Live audience that night gave fair reception relative to the star power the UFC could offer. Many had left the arena before the main event reached its conclusion, giving in to the fatigue of sitting through fight after fight. If the big players of MMA are still barely making ripples in globalized markets, what more our smaller local promotions?

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Frankie Edgar outscored Urijah Faber in the main event of the UFC offering last May 16. (Courtesy of rappler.com)

Global fandom for MMA has already fallen beyond its peak in 2010, with the retirement of household names such as Brock Lesnar, Fedor Emelianenko, Chuck Lidell, Randy Couture, and more recently, Anderson Silva and George St. Pierre.

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Anderson Silva’s injury in this championship match against Chris Weidman hastened his decision to rest. (courtesy of xinhuanet.com)

This is especially true given that the current skill level of MMA’s highly-touted (and less popular) elite is at a point where fights are generally much too competitive for action-packed mainstream entertainment. The UFC’s foray into Manila featured a bout between Gegard Mousasi and Costas Philippou, a fight which was very relevant in terms of Middleweight rankings on a worldwide scale. But due to Mousasi’s very clinical dismantling of Philippou’s offensive game, the fight was widely panned by the much larger casual audience. Watching Mixed Martial Arts is still a novelty, more dependent on spectator than sport. And, whether the UFC can retain an audience in this region is largely predicated on the name value of their offerings.

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Gegard was simply technically more proficient. (courtesy of mmamania.com)

On the flip side, Zuffa – the American sports promotions company handling mixed martial arts –  is also running the risk of over-saturating its UFC product with weekly fight cards. Each card lasts about four hours on average, and most are filled to the brim with filler fights featuring newly-signed but often far less-skilled locals. This is a very hit-or-miss strategy, to say the least, and Zuffa had better rethink their plan to achieve their goal of global expansion.

Some cards, such as their most recent Australian card, would begin at inopportune time slots for both domestic and American viewership, and would feature fights that are abysmally irrelevant to the narrative of the sport. UFC Fight Night: Manila is no exception to this.

They have struck gold in some cases however. They have undoubtedly found  prospects who do not only have skills, but also have impressionable personalities. One such example is of course the “Notorious” Connor Mcgregor, who has fought and marketed his way to a highly-anticipated title fight set for this coming July. Not only has he achieved such a feat, he has also ushered in a new era for Irish MMA, taking many Irish fans and fighters with him in his crusade.

That said, gravitation towards MMA culture abroad, or should I say, in these here parts, whether in terms of fandom or having an aspiring community of practitioners, can be heavily swayed by having a hero in the sport who we can identify with. What we need is a face, a name, a poster boy.

The obvious highlight of May 16th’s Manila card was the farewell bout of the much-loved “Filipino Wrecking Machine.” The fight had somehow put to rest many a Filipino’s bitterness coming from Manny Pacquiao’s loss to Floyd Mayweather.

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Sentimental favorite Mark Munoz scores a farewell victory over the gangling Luke Barnatt. (courtesy of mmanext.com)

Mark Muñoz’ heart-filled performance was nothing short of astonishing. He put to rest many woes about his career, retiring with an enviable final victory on his record. Despite his retirement and obligations to his family, Muñoz has vowed to help develop the popularity of the sport and to help promote freestyle wrestling in the Philippines, a promise which I hope he will keep given the lack of success from other Filipino fighters that night.

There are still a couple of major factors at play which may further my rather pessimistic view of the Filipino or Asian prospectus: the future of sponsorship given the UFC’s new Reebok deal and the viability of other major promotions given that they can put an end to the UFC’s monopsony. The basic premise is that the window for being an MMA fighter is very small (typically nine years for one decent career), and requires a quarter-life’s dedication. There may soon come a time when fighters at every level may all have to pay and suffer for their careers, but that also remains to be seen. MMA isn’t boxing, and if you must sacrifice so much of your health and time, it had better be worth it.

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The MOA was filled to the rafters. Will MMA continue to thrive in the Philippines with the retirement of Mark Munoz?
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