Opportunity of a lifetime

GUSTO mo lumaban sa UFC?”

Wallen del Rosario thought that his Coach John Baylon was playing a joke on him.

Hindi nga?”

The 29-year-old Caviteño was ecstatic, his heart racing like he was strapped on Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 Mercedes.

Del Rosario was invited to compete in the Road to the UFC as part of UFC 275: Glover Teixeira vs. Jiri Prochazka; the fight organization’s first pay-per-view in Asia that will be held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium this June 12.

The Road to UFC is a “win and advance” tournament featuring prospects from Japan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, India, and from the UFC Academy in China who will compete in each of four men’s weight classes: flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight and lightweight.

The opening round of ROAD TO UFC will take place across two days, June 9 and June 10 ahead of UFC 275. The semifinals and finals are scheduled for later this year. A UFC contract will be awarded to each of the four division’s winners.

When del Rosario sat down and calmed himself, he realized that “malaking bagay ’to.”

“Kailangan maghanda ng mabuti.”

Sporting a 10-3 record, del Rosario has fought in the alphabet soup minor MMA leagues in Southeast Asia.

“First sport ko talaga yung mixed martial arts (MMA),” he said. “Katorse anyos pa lang ako nagsimula na ako mag-train ng MMA.”

Wallen is the latest homegrown Filipino fighter to get an opportunity to fight in the world’s premier combat sports organization. Other homegrown fighters include Eddie Yagin (2011-12 with a 1-1 UFC record), Dave Galera (2014 with a 0-1 UFC record), Mark Eddiva (2014-16 with a 1-3 UFC record), Jenel Lausa (2016-18 with a 1-3 UFC slate), Rolando Dy (2017-18 with a 1-3 UFC record), Carls John de Tomas (2017 with a 0-2 UFC record), and Joshua Culibao (2020 with a 0-1-1 UFC record) to name a few.

Most recently, Baguio City-based Filipino-American fighter Mark Streigl fought in the UFC but he was released after going 0-2.

There are two other fighters of Filipino descent in the UFC at the moment—Fil-Am Jordan Williams and Filipino-Salvadorian Ricky Turcios.

The Caviteño pointed to Eduard Folayang and Connor MacGregor as his inspirations.

The Road to UFC in Singapore will only be del Rosario’s third fight overseas. He twice fought in the Chinese promotion, WLF Wars in Zhengzhou, China, where he knocked out Ye Bian in 2017. In his second match, he lost via unanimous decision to Jinbo Zou.

The Road to UFC in Singapore—where Wallen will be up against a Chinese fighter—will be his third and biggest match in his career. He hopes that ring rust will not be a factor as he hasn’t seen action since the pandemic began in March of 2020.

Gagawin ko ang best ko hindi lang para sa sarili ko pero para sa bayan,” promised del Rosario. “Magandang pagkakataon ito.”