From the street to the ring: the story of the first MMA event in the Philippines
The mixed martial arts scene in the Philippines has come a long away since its inception nearly 18 years ago. Homegrown talents such as Eduard Folayang, Joshua Pacio and Kevin Belingon have become international stars.
But before the Philippines became one of the MMA hotbeds in Asia, one person needed to go against the grain and take the initiative to formally introduce the sport to a nation that was heavily engrossed in basketball, boxing and billiards.
Alvin Aguilar conceptualized the Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) with the objective of moving the scene away from underground fights in Manila towards sanctioned events.
URCC 1: ‘Mayhem in Manila’ took place on November 23, 2002 at the now-demolished Casino Filipino complex in Parañaque City. The card featuring 19 bouts and 38 different fighters.
It was quite an ambitious project and Aguilar had to overcome a series of challenges to turn his dream into a reality,
“There were a lot. The two that stuck out though was getting a venue to hold an MMA tournament. No one wanted to take a chance as they thought I was literally crazy. Another concern was making sure that there would be no violence before, during and after the actual bouts,” he said.
Due to his involvement with underground fighting in the past Aguilar also experienced difficulties in convincing private companies to sponsor his maiden fight card,
“We were already holding many underground fights before this. We would invite fighters from other gyms, and we would all fight. Sometimes, the losing team would try to get back in different ways, which would escalate to people fighting in the streets with fists, sticks, knives and guns. The sponsors would just hang up on me. They saw no hope whatsoever for us,” he recalled.
After several failed meetings with potential sponsors, Aguilar saw the light at the end of the tunnel when the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation offered to be URCC’s venue partner.
“They took a chance on us, but the night before, they had many concerns. I just told them that I had it under control, and I did because I knew what I was doing inside and outside the ring,” he said.
Aguilar had to get clearance from the Games and Amusements Board for his promotion to operate. The URCC head honcho appeared in three formal hearings over the course of four months and even conducted a seminar on MMA rules with the sanctioning body’s top officials observing the proceedings.
“They saw it was a legitimate sport. I just had to answer a million questions from the board and other people they invited as well. It was all good, purely professional. My experience has always been that way with them,” Aguilar said.
Raw and real
Having finished all the paper work required to run an event, Aguilar then shifted his focus on making the bout lineup. Camps like Deftac, Hybrid Yaw-Yan, Team Pencak Silat and Suntukaran Todo Bakbakan were all represented at URCC 1.
One of the combatants on that evening was Richard Lasprilla, who never in his wildest dream imagined that he would eventually become a full time mixed martial artist. He was handpicked to represent Deftac, Aguilar’s team, going up against Hermes Bueza Jr. at URCC 1.
“I was training every day but competitions were far and few in between. I had several underground fights against professional boxers and kickboxers. So when Alvin told me to compete, I had no other choice but fight,” Lasprilla recalled.
Lasprilla, who has a background in BJJ, made quick work of Bueza by submitting him in the first round with a rear-naked choke. He thinks the event helped lay the foundations for the thriving MMA scene in the Philippines today,
“URCC was a hit because it was raw and real, but at the same time, fair. It made MMA professional. Filipino fighters were given a stage to perform, and many clubs signed up,” Lasprilla said.
Aguilar says that the event surpassed all expectations,
“I knew it would be successful, but not that big. We expected 500 people to show up, but 5,000 people showed up instead. Watching all the people come in at the start and feeling the pure energy of everyone when the show started. After the show, I was still so hyped up with adrenaline. I knew already at that time, we would start an awesome legacy.”
Lasprilla went on to compete in eight more bouts before calling it a career in 2010. The URCC is still going strong and he says the promotion deserves credit for transforming the sport from street fighting to sanctioned competition,
“Alvin’s vision was to take martial arts fighting off the streets and give fighters the stage to develop themselves and set them up internationally. Most, if not all, homegrown champions have their roots in URCC. More than having champions, it also honored and solidified the fighting spirit of Filipinos and gave them livelihood.”