ONE FC champ Ben Askren sees potential in PH MMA scene
MANILA, Philippines – With the persistent growth of mixed martial arts (MMA) in the Philippines, ONE Championship welterweight titleholder Ben Askren expects a bright future ahead of its local combat scene.
The Philippines has become a hot bed of the sport since its formal introduction in 2002 and currently houses two major promotions in Pacific Xtreme Combat (PXC) and Universal Reality Combat Championship.
In addition, amateur MMA leagues have mushroomed all over the archipelago, including PXC’s Laban MMA, Goat Locker Gym’s Underground Battle, Warriors League Championship and Team Lakay Championship.
Although the country is hooked with sports like basketball and boxing, Askren believes that ONE’s vast network opened gates of opportunity for the Philippines when the organization saw its potential as a good MMA market in the Southeast Asian region.
“Filipinos understand fighting. It’s not a big jump to go from boxing to MMA. It’s a small jump. I definitely think that MMA is growing all over Southeast Asia, obviously also here in the Philippines. I think ONE FC has a big part of that in bringing it to the next stage,” he told Rappler.
ONE has been a regular visitor in the Philippines since 2012 as Asia’s largest MMA company has a lucrative partnership with the SM Group of businessman Henry Sy to stage two fight cards a year at the 20,000-seater SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, Metro Manila.
However, its western counterpart Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is set to have its first Philippine live event at the same state-of-the-art venue three weeks after ONE’s Manila trip dubbed as “Valor of Champions” on April 24.
Even as UFC’s maiden venture on Philippine soil is seen as cause for celebration, Askren argues that the world’s premiere MMA promotion could have a difficult time in implementing its international leverage, citing the organization’s challenging situation when it ran an overseas show in Singapore and Macau last year.
“The UFC had a tough time coming to Asia. Asia is ONE FC’s market. When the UFC went to Singapore and Macau, there weren’t a lot people. What we’ve seen so far is that the UFC has struggled to do well in Asia,” he stressed.
After the announcement of his departure from Bellator MMA, the 30-year-old grappler from Milwaukee, Wisconsin was expected to join the ranks of the UFC, but head honcho Dana White shocked everyone by publicly proclaiming that he was not interested to recruit Askren, which created a personal friction between the two men.
“I don’t know what the UFC show is going to do in three or four weeks, but I know the ONE FC show is going to be sold out and action-packed,” Askren said.
Askren (14-0) is set to headline ONE:Valor of Champions and is booked to defend his welterweight belt against Luis Santos.
“I’m excited to be in Manila. I’ve seen the ONE FC shows here and they were packed. So I know when I fight at the Mall of Asia Arena on April 24th, it’s going to be sold out,” he stated.
Universally recognized as one of the best 170-pound fighters today, Askren has competed twice under the ONE banner in 2014, submitting Bakhtiyar Abbasov with an arm-triangle choke in May before thwarting Nobutatsu Suzuki in the first round to claim the welterweight division’s top prize in August.
On the other hand, Santos (61-9-1) is experiencing a career resurgence since his release from Bellator in May 2012 as he piled up seven-straight stoppage victories.
The 15-year MMA veteran from Brazil was last seen in action this past November when he scored a 53-second demolition of Abbasov.
“I’m going to beat him up like I beat everybody else up,” Askren warned.