Philippine bets Almanza, Panales test mettle in 'Road to UFC'

Rick Olivares - Philstar.com
Philippine bets Almanza, Panales test mettle in 'Road to UFC'

MANILA, Philippines – John Almanza and Ruel Panales are the Philippines’ latest bets to secure a UFC contract in this third season of Road to UFC.

Road to UFC is a ground-breaking “win and advance” tournament that will take top MMA prospects from Asia and give them a pathway to a UFC contract. The format features 32 mixed martial arts athletes competing in each of four weight classes. Additionally, four non-tournament bouts will be included to provide more opportunities.

Almanza is 6-0-0 having fought in local promotions, his last being UGB 43, where he defeated Robin Leonen in the first round via doctor stoppage in November 2023.

Panales, whose cage moniker is “Bagsik”, is 5-1-0. The 27-year-old fighter was victorious in his first four professional fights in local promotions, winning his first international fight in UAE Warriors 30 in August 2022. Moving up to Brave Combat Federation, Panales saw his first match declared “no contest”, lost to Maysara Mohamed, then defeated Jianbing Mao in Brave CF 76. He then received an invite from the UFC.

Road to UFC’s third season will take place across two days, May 18 and May v19, at the UFC Performance Institute (UFC PI) in Shanghai, China. 

Both Almanza and Panales will compete in Road to UFC’s flyweight division (56.7 kg class), with Almanza facing off against India’s Angad Bisht and Panales taking on Japan’s Toki Matsui.

In previous seasons of Road to UFC, the Philippines was represented by Wallen del Rosario, John Adajar, and Mark Climaco (in Seasons 1 and 2, respectively). Only Climaco advanced past the first round.

The UFC PI Shanghai develops and supports the next generation of MMA athletes from mainland China and the greater Asia-Pacific region by hosting an invite-only UFC Academy Combine to test and select up-and-coming prospects for a full scholarship to the UFC Academy, the region’s leading MMA talent development program. The facility also serves as Official High Performance Advisor to the Chinese Olympic Committee.

Each round of Road to UFC Season 3 will take place in front of a live audience, with location and venue details announced in advance of each event. The finals will feature bouts on a UFC Fight Night, at which time UFC contracts will be awarded to each of the four divisions' winners.

Kevin Chang, UFC senior vice president and head of Asia, said: “Road to UFC has had a tremendous impact on building our local talent and fan base in Asia. Seasons 1 and 2 surpassed our expectations in all aspects, and several of our RTU contract winners are already making waves in the UFC, showing how the depth of talent in Asia is growing. Season 3 is primed to deliver even more incredible action, and we are excited to see who will be the next stars to emerge from RTU.”

Each episode of Road to UFC will air in Asia primetime GMT +8, so audiences across the Philippines can get to know the athletes via in-event features and competitions on UFC's official broadcast partner in the Philippines, Premier Sports 1 and Blast TV.

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