While the big names in Pinoy mixed martial arts have been recycled in press releases over and over, here are the new names and faces that you should watch for in the year to come.
1) Jenel Lausa
Currently the only Filipino national on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster, Lausa has some real star potential. He’s a former Pacific Xtreme Combat (PXC) champ and pro boxing champ, and he’s coming off a successful UFC debut last November. He’ll fight next at UFC 210 in New York, and if he picks up a win there, then he’d be the first Pinoy national to win two UFC bouts. With a solid skillset and a good head on his shoulders, 'The Demolition Man' could wreck his way towards the UFC flyweight title.
2) Rolando Gab Dy
'Dy Incredible' is 26 years old and is as hungry as they come to make waves in MMA. He’s a two-time PXC title challenger armed with both solid grappling and punching power. He’s got the potential to be a PXC champ and even make it into the UFC; let’s see if 2017 will be his year.
3) CJ De Tomas
De Tomas’ superb striking and wrestling skills have made him the Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) flyweight champ at just 20 years of age. He hasn’t lost in eight professional bouts and has what it takes to rule over his division for a very long time. With the URCC going global, the world will know all about 'Golden Boy' sooner than later.
4) Stephan Loman
This young up-and-comer is part of the new breed of Team Lakay stars. Inside the cage, he looks like your typical Lakay fighter: ripped to the core and rocking the iconic red shorts. But his fighting style is the result of his team’s evolution through the years, incorporating far more grappling and takedowns to go with their signature Wushu striking style. The 21-year-old no doubt has the skills to eventually make it in the big leagues. In fact, he’s fighting for a PXC title this month.
5) Chris Hofmann
This Fil-Swede has gone from basketball D-league to two-division URCC champ in record time. He’s a blue belter in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) but it’s his fast-evolving striking that has yielded five pro wins, all via KO. He gets better with every fight, and URCC middleweights and light heavyweights are all on notice.
6) Geli Bulaong
A former member of the Philippine national wrestling team, current member of the national Muay Thai team, and a purple belter in BJJ, 26-year-old Geli Bulaong is a complete fighter. She’s also the URCC’s first ever female champion. Comfortable in front of the camera and inside the cage, Bulaong can certainly become the face of women’s MMA in the Philippines and make a splash both regionally and internationally.
7) Mark Striegl
Fil-Am Streigl has a solid submission wrestling game and vastly improving striking. He’s a former PXC title challenger and now a fighter with ONE Championship. He only fought once in 2016, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s more active in the cage this year and if he can make the surge into title contention.
8) Iron Montilla
He beat the late former PXC flyweight champ Ale Cali by impressive submission and has a win over Pinoy UFC fighter Jenel Lausa. He’s never won more than two consecutive bouts, but this underrated flyweight could make a run for the title this year.
9) Red Romero
The former URCC champ is the longest tenured fighter on this list, but his promise lies in his next bout in South Korean promotion ROAD FC’s 16-man tournament. A win there would make him the tournament champ and set him up for a title shot and a potential $1 million. Safe to say that if everything goes as planned for Romero, then he’d make a real splash in the regional scene.
10) Alvin Ramirez
He’s had four URCC title shots but has yet to capture a championship belt, but 'Kastigo' Ramirez isn’t done yet. His exciting striking style, penchant for flashy finishes, and natural charisma make him well-equipped to win over fans across Southeast Asia.
11) Drex Zamboanga
If you don’t know the name yet, then you certainly will soon. Drex is part of that new breed of Pinoy MMA fighters who diligently train and compete in gi Jiu-jitsu. He’s the winner of the longest recorded grappling match in Filipino competition history (one hour and 15 seconds), which means he’s in tremendous shape. Pair that with his crisp striking, and you’ve got a future champ in the making.
12) Joshua Pacio
Another protege of the champ factory known as Team Lakay, Pacio is young, hungry, and he’s being thrown into the deep end of the pool—and man, can he swim. At just 21 years of age, he’s already fought for a ONE Championship title. He’s training with veterans in the gym and fighting veterans in the cage, which can only mean rapid growth for the fighter from Baguio.