Good year for combat sports in 2019

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By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

THE YEAR 2019 could well go down as one of the better years for combat sports in the country as various disciplines of the sporting form had their moments front and center.

From good old boxing to mixed martial arts to jiu-jitsu and kickboxing, Filipino athletes this year impressively showed what they are made of, moving one local fight analyst to say it bodes well for combat sports going forward.

“The Philippine combat sports scene in 2019 had quite a good year. In boxing, it was bannered by Manny Pacquiao. Who would have thought that the fighting senator will still be lacing up a pair of boxing gloves at this day and age? Aside from Pacquiao, Jerwin Ancajas demonstrated his staying power at 115 pounds. Pedro Taduran and John Riel Casimero ended the year as world champions,” said fight analyst Nissi Icasiano in an interview.

“In MMA, it has been a rollercoaster ride, especially Team Lakay, which experienced some ups and downs throughout the year. In matches that carried significant bearing, most of them fell short. But I am glad that they managed to punctuate the year on a triumphant note. In addition, they still have two world champions in Joshua Pacio (in ONE Championship) and Stephen Loman (in Brave Combat Federation),” he added.

He went on to say that it was not only confined to pro boxing and MMA, which took headlines for combat sports for much of the time in previous years, with the 30th Southeast Asian Games which the country hosted recently proving to be a good platform.

“The good thing about this year is that other martial arts got a much-needed exposure. The recently-concluded SEA Games was a great platform for sports like jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, Muay Thai and even wrestling. It’s a step forward for the holistic growth of the entire industry. On the amateur boxing side, the Filipino people got a taste of how brilliant the pugilists we have on the national team such as Eumir Marcial, Nesthy Petecio and Josie Gabuco,” Mr. Icasiano said.

Asked which among the key moments stood out for him in 2019, Mr. Icasiano said Mr. Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire Jr. provided it while giving props to MMA fighters Pacio, Loman and Rolando Dy.

“The two key moments in combat sports that I would like to think that left a mark were Manny Pacquiao’s victory over a prime Keith Thurman last July and Nonito Donaire’s bout against Naoya Inoue. Over the course of 12 rounds, Pacquiao proved that he could still take care of business against an elite opponent. Boxing’s only eight-division world champion silenced his doubters and looked absolutely marvelous in his scintillating victories over Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner, and now Thurman,” he said.

“Meanwhile, though he yielded to the Japanese hard-hitter, Donaire shattered the mystique of Inoue. He showed the world that the Japanese knockout artist possesses some vulnerability. It was a gutsy effort on the part of the Filipino Flash, but it only shows that it is doable, especially since Casimero eyes a date with Inoue next year,” Mr. Icasiano added.

Further, “In MMA, though Joshua Pacio deserves to be called the Filipino MMA Fighter Of The Year, Stephen Loman broke out of the shadows of his Team Lakay brothers in 2019. That rousing performance at Brave Combat Federation’s debut in the Philippines last March made casual fans realize there is something more on that Team Lakay roster. Rolando Dy had a great run this year, but the momentum got derailed when he lost to Do Gyeom Lee in UAE Warriors.”

Mr. Icasiano said at the moment nothing is etched in stone yet but nonetheless expects Mr. Pacquiao and Team Lakay to create noise anew as well as the national athletes who are eyeing spots in the Tokyo Olympics.

“Nothing is set in stone yet for 2020. But I hope to see Jerwin Ancajas finally get a high-profile opponent next year. Manny Pacquiao is expected to be back in action against either Danny Garcia or Mikey Garcia. Team Lakay will start their 2020 campaign as early as January,” the analyst said.

World championships gold medal winner Petecio would have automatically qualified for the Olympics next year but since the event was organized by AIBA, it is not recognized as a qualifying event, hence she and other Filipino boxers have to go through the qualifiers early next year.