Despite compiling a decent record, Ernesto Montilla is still floating around the free agent market. Photograph by Yin Quintin-Gutierrez
Drive Sports and Fitness

Filipino MMA fighter Ernesto Montilla is ready for the international big leagues

The fighter from Laguna isn't stopping until he gets his due on the global mixed martial arts stage, and believes that 2020 is the year that his dreams will come true.
Nissi Icasiano | Feb 12 2020

In the last seven year, Ernesto Montilla Jr. has become one of the most exciting and brightest flyweights to watch in the local  mixed martial arts (MMA) scene. His aggressive striking approach and no-frills wrestling techniques put fans on the edge of their seats, and he has only been stretched twice in his 10 career victories.

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Despite his decent 10-4 record and explosive fighting style, the 27-year-old still has not been picked up by a promotion, and is still floating around the free agent market. While others had it easy gaining access to the bright lights of the international stage, it has been a long, hard, doubt-filled road for Montilla.

“It’s somehow frustrating. I know for a fact that I am ripe to compete against the best that the MMA world can offer. I’ve fought athletes who are high level, and I’ve managed to exceed expectations because of my hard work and dedication. As you see, I’m still at this level,” the man from San Pedro, Laguna says in his native tongue.

The closest that Montilla has ever gotten to foreign exposure was when he competed in the now-defunct Pacific Xtreme Combat (PXC), a regional MMA organization that held events in both Guam and the Philippines from 2004 to 2017. PXC served as the footstool for homegrown talents such as Roldan Sangcha-an, Rolando Gabriel Dy, Jenel Lausa, Mark Striegl, and Stephen Loman to be noticed by globally-recognized leagues such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, ONE Championship, and Brave Combat Federation.

The closest that Montilla has ever gotten to international exposure were his fights in the now-defunct Pacific Xtreme Combat (PXC).

Montilla went 4-4 in PXC, holding remarkable wins over the likes of Lausa and the late Ale Cali, and vied for the vacant flyweight championship in a losing effort against Alvin Cacdac in November of 2014. His three-year tenure in PXC still did not give him enough leverage, leaving him no other choice but to go back to the local circuit in 2017. Signing with Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC), Montilla made a strident splash, scoring four-straight submission victories that include his quick work of Jiar Castillo to capture the available flyweight title.

The fighter put his championship strap on the line against Team Lakay’s Edilberto Coquia Jr. last April, and kept it via unanimous decision. He was supposed to make his second title defense versus Shomidin Maksudinov this past November, but the event was cancelled after URCC founder Alvin Aguilar chose to give way for the hosting of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in the country.

Montilla was in the middle of training camp when he learned the postponement of his scheduled bout. “I prepared really hard for my title defense because my goal was to achieve a statement win in that fight. Unfortunately, they had to cancel it. At first, I didn’t believe the news. When I got the confirmation, I can’t help but feel depressed,” he shares. What's worse, the URCC top brass has not given a definite date for Montilla's return to action.

But there is no turning back for him now. “I am willing to suit up anytime. I will fight whoever they put in front of me,” he says.

As he waits for URCC’s call, Montilla disclosed that he has been receiving offers from smaller organizations to strut his wares. Although he would gladly entertain those invitations to avoid inactivity and make ends meet, Montilla is biding his time and believes that his opportunity will come soon.

Montilla is rumored to have been selected to be part of ONE Championship's “Hero Series Philippines” project.

“I am still training regularly. I didn’t stop. I want to make sure whenever I get the call, I am ready to jump in there with no questions asked. I am also praying for bigger opportunities,” he says.

According to sources within ONE Championship, Montilla has been selected to be part of the Singapore-based MMA outfit’s “Hero Series Philippines” project, which will be aired around August or September of this year. It will be a reality television show, searching for top prospects all over the archipelago. It culminates in a tournament, with the winner taking home a USD 100,000 contract.

The fighter does not want to comment about it, but he is ready for any eventuality. If he gets snubbed again, he has one plan in mind—steamroll every opposition that comes his way. “I think 2020 is the year when my dreams will come true," he says. "Whether it’s the UFC or ONE Championship, I will take it. If not, it’s fine. I know it will come. I will just keep on winning until they notice me.".

Photographs by Yin Quintin-Gutierrez