Manila. The Philippines put some of its best fighters in the cage on Friday night at an event titled “Pride of the Nation,” held at a sold-out 16,000-seat Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The event was the nation’s first to be hosted by the Singapore-based mixed martial arts organization ONE Fighting Championship, which since its launch last year has already become the biggest MMA organization in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The fans were really amazing. They came out to support and enjoy the event. They took the sport to a new level,” ONE FC founder and chief executive Victor Cui told the Jakarta Globe in Manila on Saturday.
“Eric Kelly had a fantastic win and Eduard [Folayang] won, so it’s a great story for the Philippines. I can never expect the outcome [of the fights] but I always look forward to this world-class event. What I did expect was the excitement about the sport and the sold-out [stadium],” Cui said.
Few of the fans left their seats until all 11 fights ended at just after midnight. They especially cheered for local heroes Kelly and Folayang.
Kelly knocked out American fighter Jens Pulver in the second round of their featherweight bout, while Folayang won by unanimous decision against Japanese Felipe Enomoto after goring toe-to-toe for three rounds in the lightweight class.
With those victories, both Filipinos earned the right to compete at the next ONE FC event, titled “Rise of Kings,” which is to be held in Singapore on Oct. 6.
For the first time in ONE FC history, three title belts will be fought for at the Singapore Indoor Stadium and the main event will feature a Super Fight between lightweight champion Shinya Aoki and French MMA champion Arnaud Lepont.
“The next event will be fantastic. Three world champion belts will be awarded. It’s great,” Cui said.
He added that the MMA event would return to Jakarta in December, after a sold-out February event at the Sports Mall in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta.
In Manila, two South Korean fighters also had stellar nights. Jung Hwan-cha shocked Igor Gracie, of the legendary Brazilian Gracie MMA family, by technical knockout in the first minute of the third round in their welterweight bout, while in bantamweight, Soo Chul-kim defeated host fighter Kevin Belingon by unanimous decision.
American fighter Phil Baroni had the fastest bout of the night, needing just 72 seconds to knock out Brazilian Rodrigo Ribeiro.
In other fights, Thai fighter Shannon Wiratchai beat Mitch Chilson of the United States, Bibiano Fernandes won over Gustavo Falciroli, while Honorio Banario knocked out Andrew Benibe.
Controversy arose at one point in the night, when judges decided a no-contest in the heavyweight fight between Tim Sylvia of the United States against Belarusian Andrei Arlovski.
Arlovski was given a yellow card after an illegal kick to Sylvia’s head.