FEATURE: 2016: The year Filipino fighters stood tall in ONE Championship

The Philippines has produced many notable boxers throughout the years, including Francisco “Pancho Villa” Guilledo, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde and eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao.

Although the country has become a breeding ground of world-class boxers, it is quickly carving a niche in other combat sports, particularly in mixed martial arts (MMA).

The nation has been deeply involved with MMA since 1995 when Kung Fu practitioner Onassis Parungao made his professional debut in the United States, but it took seven years before the sport was formally introduced on local shores.

For over two decades, it has been a dizzying rollercoaster ride for Filipino fighters as they encountered a mix of sweet triumphs and heartbreaks.

However, it was a different story in 2016 as Filipino combatants glimmered like diamonds atop an international MMA stage.

Over the course of 14 events in ONE Championship’s 2016 calendar, Filipino competitors tallied 24 victories, including a successful title defense and a stunning championship-winning performance.

Let us explore the moments that left an indelible mark in 2016, courtesy of the gallant warriors from the Philippines.

Eduard Folayang attains long-sought title

Eduard Folayang’s long journey to a world title in MMA had an epic conclusion as the renowned Filipino fighter became the first to defeat Japanese MMA legend Shinya Aoki in nearly five years.

The 33-year-old Baguio City native captured the ONE Lightweight World Championship belt by beating Aoki via third-round technical knockout in the main event of ONE: DEFENDING HONOR last November.

With his astonishing conquest of Aoki, Folayang joined Team Lakay comrade Honorio Banario and international MMA sensation Brandon Vera as Filipinos to win world titles in ONE Championship.

Names of possible lightweight contenders to challenge Folayang for his gold-plated strap have surfaced, but there is nothing set in stone at the moment.

Folayang is willing to face any deserving fighter on ONE Championship’s lightweight roster and seeks to have his first title defense in front of his countrymen.

Brandon Vera defends ONE Heavyweight World Championship crown

As an age-old adage of prizefighting goes, a fighter is simply not considered a real champion until he or she defends his or her title successfully.

Brandon Vera proved worthy to be called ONE Heavyweight World Champion by defeating Japanese challenger Hideki Sekine in the headliner of ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION this December.

Vera made easy work of the previously-unbeaten Japanese stalwart, winning by technical knockout just minutes into the first round.

From the opening bell, Vera began to land a series of solid blows on Sekine, who surprisingly took his foe’s best shots quite well.

Moments later, a thudding body kick connected for Vera, sending Sekine crashing to the canvas clutching his midsection. Vera then put on the finishing touches with punishing strikes from the top to get the win.

The 39-year-old ONE Heavyweight World Champion is eying a more active fight calendar in 2017.

(More next week)