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Filipino fighters: Getting redemption

Nonito Donaire Jr.’s ninth-round stoppage of former champion Vic Darchinyan was a much-needed boost to the spirits of the Filipino people, who are just waking up to the enormity of devastation brought about by super storm Yolanda. Filipino fight fans are looking forward to more opportunities for us to reclaim belts and crowns that were once ours, beginning with Manny Pacquiao’s return to the ring after a year within the next two weeks.

Save for some defensive lapses in the fourth and fifth rounds, Donaire played it smart. He used the ring, his jab and consistency to frustrate Darchinyan, whose world title he first took six years ago as a substitute. In an unintentional stroke of good fortune, Donaire was forced back by a barrage from the Armenian midway through the fourth round, and luckily ended up grasping the top rope with his right hand, potentially saving him from a knockdown. In the fifth round, a patented left straight from Darchinyan forced him back again, but he recovered his poise and used his jab to the hilt from then on.

The victory puts Donaire back on track for a rematch against Guillermo Rigondeaux, and his dream of unifying the world title in one champion. Donaire, who fought four times last year, was not at his best against the younger Cuban, and was outboxed in his first loss since beating Darchinyan six years ago. The loss was highlighted by a coincidental string of losses by other Filipino fighters in the weeks before and after that bout.

Similarly, Filipino mixed martial artist Honorio “The Rock” Banario is looking for an emphatic knockout over rival Koji Oishi, the Japanese who dethroned him as One Fighting Championship (One FC) world featherweight champion early this year in front of his home crowd. It was particularly disappointing for Banario as he had Oishi cornered and was seconds away from ending the fight in the first round when the bell rang to conclude the round.

After the defeat, Banario began questioning his chosen profession. After all, had he not started on his mixed martial arts journey, the Cordillera Career Development College graduate would likely have become a police officer, since his Bachelor of Science degree is in Criminology. But after a brief period of soul-searching, Banario realized that he has unfinished business and may still be considered the country’s greatest new hope in mixed martial arts. 

A group of Philippine media headed to Baguio City early this morning to observe the training of Banario, Eduard Folayang, Kevin Belingon and Jujeath Nagaowa as they prepare for a big One FC event at the Mall of Asia Arena in December.

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Banario held the title for a few months after he defeated veteran Eric Kelly early this year to become One FC’s first featherweight world champion and the Philippines’ first world champion in mixed martial arts. He still grist his teeth at the memory of relinquishing his title.

“I can’t believe I lost the first bout and I definitely will not lose the second bout,” he says, shaking his head. “I’m taking my belt back to the Philippines.”

Banario is the eldest of three talented fighting brothers. The trio engaged in sparring sessions at home growing up in Baguio. Their conservative parents were initially hesitant to allow them to learn wushu and subsequently MMA, but they were convinced when Honorio found early success, opening the way for his brothers to follow his path. Banario has been to Malaysia to train with top coaches there, but is now receiving conditioning from a wrestling coach at the Team Lakay gym in Baguio. He admits that he was careless in his last fight with Oishi. 

“I will be more cautious this time. I was very excited because I came so close to finishing him in the first round that my defense dropped for just a split second in the second round and I got caught,” he recalls.

Meanwhile, Jujeath Nagaowa began her professional boxing career in college, when she fought to raise money for her school fees and fell in love with the sport. Earlier on, her parents had separated, and Jujeath and her sister had difficulty making ends meet. The 26-year-old Benguet native has been in 26 professional bouts, winning eight by knockout. In 2011, she knocked out Aisha Alico to become WBC Asia Atomweight champion.

Nagaowa is making the transition from boxing to mixed martial arts, and will now compete alongside contemporaries Folayang, Banario and Geje Eustaquio on Dec. 6. She has been working on her grappling skills in the past month to bring them up to par with her boxing. Her boyfriend and trainer Edwin Tumbag, is a former boxer and has been overseeing her development. She will become the first female international mixed martial artist to compete from the Philippines.

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