Since the launch of ONE Championship in September 2011, the Philippines has given the mixed martial arts world some of the greatest athletes the sport has ever known.
Ahead of the promotion’s spectacular return to the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila for ONE: MASTERS OF FATE on Friday, 8 November, we take a look at seven of the best Filipino martial artists to ever compete inside the Circle.
Because all of these warriors are so talented and accomplished, it is difficult to rank them. Therefore, we have listed them in alphabetical order.
#1 Honorio “The Rock” Banario
A native of Mankayan, a small mining town in the Benguet province, Honorio “The Rock” Banario abandoned childhood aspirations of law enforcement in favor of martial arts.
“The Rock” received a scholarship to attend Cordillera Career Development College and compete on the school’s newly-formed amateur wushu team.
Soon thereafter, he made the national junior wushu team under martial arts pioneer Mark Sangiao, and he later transitioned into mixed martial arts.
After linking up with Sangiao at Team Lakay, Banario made his professional debut in 2010. He won his first six bouts and then joined ONE Championship.
He holds the distinction of being the first-ever ONE Featherweight World Champion, an accolade he earned after defeating his compatriot Eric “The Natural” Kelly at ONE: RETURN OF WARRIORS in February 2013.
Banario’s humble beginnings, along with his commitment to martial arts, have made him a role model the Filipino people look up to.
#2 Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon
While growing up in the Kiangan village of the Ifugao province, Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon was introduced to the traditional wrestling style of bultong and was heavily influenced to learn martial arts due to his love for Bruce Lee.
He discovered wushu when he attended the University Of The Cordilleras and studied the martial art under the careful eye of Sangiao.
In June 2007, he transitioned to mixed martial arts and made his professional debut. Belingon would win his first nine matches and join ONE in March 2012.
Known for his trademark spinning kicks and flashy moves, “The Silencer” is an extremely explosive and well-conditioned athlete. Also, his wholesome image makes him a relatable figure for many Filipinos in the country.
As a proud family man of the Belingon clan, he is motivated to honor the memories of his departed uncles and grandfather.
#3 Rene “The Challenger” Catalan
Owner and founder of Catalan Fighting System in Makati, Philippines, Rene “The Challenger” Catalan started boxing while studying at the Western Institute Of Technology.
As a member of the national wushu squad, Catalan struck gold at the Asian Games, SEA Games, and the Wushu World Championships.
Unfortunately, in 2013, tragedy befell “The Challenger” when he lost his wife Edlyn to cancer. Despite the heartbreak, the Iloilo native made his mixed martial arts debut just two weeks after he laid his wife to rest.
Catalan has persevered through his pain — not just in memory of his wife, but also for his children and the young athletes enrolled at Catalan Fighting System.
Although he had a rough start to life in The Home Of Martial Arts, he now finds himself on a six-bout win streak and will challenge ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua “The Passion” Pacio for the gold in the main event of ONE: MASTERS OF FATE.
His story of triumph over adversity remains an inspiration and beacon of hope for many Filipinos today.
#4 Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio
Born in Benguet, Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio started practicing wushu at 14 years old.
He earned a scholarship to the University Of The Cordilleras, trained under Mark Sangiao, and won the Filipino wushu national championships.
As a member of the famed Team Lakay stable, Eustaquio’s knowledge of distance and spatial awareness are second to none. His feints and slips are carefully executed to elicit reactions from his opponents, while his evasive skills make him a hard target to hit.
A dual degree holder in education, “Gravity” had a successful career in teaching, but left the schoolhouse for the Circle. He validated that decision when he won the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Title belt in June 2018.
Though he no longer holds the gold, he will return to the comeback trail when he meets his old foe, Toni Tauru, at ONE: MASTERS OF FATE.
#5 Eduard “Landslide” Folayang
Eduard “Landslide” Folayang is a martial arts icon in the Philippines.
The story of how he overcame tremendous childhood tragedy to become a World Champion has endeared him to millions of Filipinos across the country.
He started his martial arts journey with kickboxing at age 16, later earned a wushu scholarship to the University Of The Cordilleras, and became a highly decorated competitor. In fact, he won 11 medals in wushu competition, including three golds at the Southeast Asia Games.
Just three years after his professional mixed martial arts debut in June 2007, “Landslide” captured the Martial Combat Superfight Lightweight Championship. However, his greatest feats were yet to come.
The Baguio native became a national hero in November 2016 when he defeated Japanese legend Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki via TKO to win the ONE Lightweight World Title. Though he lost the belt the following year, he would reclaim it in November 2018.
Now back on the hunt for the lightweight strap, Folayang collides with Amarsanaa “Spear” Tsogookhuu in the co-main event of ONE: MASTERS OF FATE.
#6 Joshua “The Passion” Pacio
Born in La Trinidad, Benguet, Joshua “The Passion” Pacio struggled with childhood obesity, but he showed a keen interest in combat sports.
When he was 11, his uncle introduced him to Muay Thai and kickboxing, which equipped him with terrific striking skills and helped him shed the excess weight. Then, he transitioned to wushu and experienced success.
Pacio competed in national tournaments and when he entered the University Of The Cordilleras to start work towards a Hospitality Management degree, he joined the school’s wushu squad under the tutelage of Sangiao. From there, he trained with Team Lakay and made the switch to mixed martial arts.
Following a successful pro debut in December 2013, “The Passion” dominated the competition. Though he experienced a few losses, he learned from his mistakes and eventually captured the ONE Strawweight World Title in September 2018. He briefly lost the belt, but he reclaimed it this past April.
Also, Pacio is the creator of his self-dubbed “The Passion Lock,” a modified hammerlock that was voted ‘Submission Of The Year’ in 2018.
Lethal in the stand-up game and increasingly versatile on the ground, the ONE Strawweight World Champion is an elite martial artist who belongs on the global stage. He plans to prove that once again in the main event of ONE: MASTERS OF FATE on Friday.
#7 Brandon “The Truth” Vera
Raised in Norfolk, Virginia, Brandon “The Truth” Vera was a natural athlete.
The Filipino-American initially competed as a wrestler in college and, after he signed on to the United States Air Force, he made the Greco-Roman wrestling team.
Vera made his mixed martial arts debut in June 2002, competing in some of the largest organizations in North America before signing with ONE Championship in 2014.
The Alliance Training Center representative made history when he defeated Paul Cheng at ONE: SPIRIT OF CHAMPIONS in December 2015 to claim the inaugural ONE Heavyweight World Title.
Tall and strong, Vera is a phenomenal finisher. The heavyweight has won four of his last five matches via first-round knockout.
Also, he has quickly become one of the Philippines’ most recognizable athletes and celebrities. “The Truth” dabbles in acting, and he recently had a starring role in the blockbuster movie BuyBust.
Vera’s charming personality and highly entertaining performances – both in and outside of the Circle – will continue to win him fans all across the globe.