For decades, we Filipinos have gotten behind our combat sports athletes with pride and passion. From the days of Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde, to the exploits of badasses like Rolando Navarrete and Luisito Espinosa. Then, of course, there was Manny Pacquiao’s era of dominance on the world stage. Once mixed martial arts and the UFC became popular, we had guys like Brandon Vera and Mark Muñoz to proudly fly our flag.
For all the popular names we’ve idolized, however, there are still many talented fighters who are not yet on the casual fans’ radars. Here are five fighters currently competing in boxing and MMA who all have the potential to become the next big champ. Remember their names:
Hardcore boxing fans might find it unusual to find Ancajas on this list. After all, he’s already the current IBF World Super Flyweight champion, and he recently defended his belt in the co-main event of the Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn card in Australia. And yet, the 25-year-old hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as he deserves. His title win against McJoe Arroyo was held in a free show at a military gym in Fort Bonifacio. We hope he gets more of the spotlight in his upcoming fights, especially since he’s on the cusp of hitting his prime.
Casimero was already the IBF Flyweight champ before relinquishing the title to move up in weight, but he’s so far flown well under the radar of most fans. To put it into perspective, his title-winning knockout wasn’t even televised in the Philippines. Hopefully, this changes as he continues to grow into his frame and career. He’s scheduled to fight against Jonas Sultan for a chance at Jerwin Ancajas’ crown. Should Casimero win, we could be in for a memorable Pinoy vs. Pinoy clash.
He shares the same first name as ‘The Bad Boy from Dadiangas,’ as well as the same genes—the 26-year-old is the son of the former world boxing champion. The younger Rolando has chosen to ply his fighting trade in mixed martial arts and is currently a part of the UFC’s roster. Though he lost his debut fight due to a cut, his opponent lauded his heart and grit. He still has a chance to prove his mettle inside the Octagon, so here’s hoping that it’s a case of like father, like son.
Some quick figures on Gaballo: he’s 20 years old, is 16-0, and has beaten 14 of those opponents by knockout. While he’s only fought in the Philippines thus far, the rising boxer has the potential to be both very good and very exciting once he starts fighting overseas. With General Santos’ Sanman Promotions behind him, he’s got all the makings to be a big name for Philippine boxing.
The Benguet province is the home of Team Lakay, one of the most successful mixed martial arts teams in the Philippines. It’s home to fighters like current One Championship title holder Eduard Folayang. One of the rising prospects from the mountains is young Danny Kingad, who is currently 5-0. In his last fight against Muhammad Aiman, he showed his heart by escaping a late submission attempt on his way to a decision victory. With tougher opponents available to him at One Championship, Kingad has a shot at improving his stock and craft in the years to come. Training with guys like Folayang on a daily basis isn’t hurting his chances, either.