Despite being the son of a fighter who had an illustrious-yet-chaotic boxing career, Rolando Gabriel Dy managed to stay away from his old man’s infamous silhouette and carved his own niche in the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA).
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His profile as a combat sports athlete further appreciated when he signed an exclusive contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 2017. While only a few homegrown talents manage to make it to the mecca of MMA, Dy was fortunate to have been part of that elite cast. He joined the likes of Dave Galera, Mark Eddiva, Roldan Sangcha-an, Jenel Lausa, and CJ De Tomas. But like those before him, Dy’s UFC tenure was short-lived.
After losing three of his four octagon outings from 2017 to 2018, the 28-year-old resident of Dasmariñas, Cavite received the dreaded pink slip from the renowned Las Vegas-based MMA promotion. Dy considers himself as a man on a mission as he will take on any challenge just to be able to return to the UFC.
Destined to be a fighter
Dy takes pride in the fact that he is a second-generation Filipino warrior; he is the son of Filipino boxing legend Rolando Navarrete.
Before Manny Pacquiao made waves as General Santos City’s favorite son, Navarrete dominated the headlines in the 1980s. Coined as “The Bad Boy from Dadiangas,” the 5-foot-5 slugger formed his fists into a deadly arsenal to fight his way out of poverty, scoring 20 knockouts in his first 52 professional bouts.
In a country with more than two dozen world champions, Navarrete earned his entry into that exclusive group in August 1981. He knocked out Cornelius Boza-Edwards in the fifth round to win the WBC junior lightweight title. Navarrete successfully defended his belt against Korean pugilist Chung-Il Choi, stopping the courageous challenger in the 11th round of a controversial contest held in Manila in January 1982. Four months later, he dropped the world title to Rafael “Bazooka” Limon via a come-from-behind technical knockout in the 12th round.
The painful setback to Limon was only the first bead to Navarrete’s rosary of misfortunes. First, his prizefighting career went on a downturn, causing him to never again figure in big-money matches. Circumstances turned from bad to worse with a three-year confinement in a United States prison for rape, a sequence of failed relationships with women who bore him a total of seven children, various police complaints for wife battery, and a disreputable record of drug use.
The hard-hitting Navarrete embarked on numerous comeback fights, but a series of defeats to local and unranked boxers forced him to retire, ending his career with a record of 54-15-3 with 30 knockouts.
While Dy's father reeled from the consequences of his muddled life outside the ring, his mother Jennifer Dy-Subastil was left with no choice but to solely care for and support him and an elder sibling.
“My mother sacrificed for us, to provide our needs and give good education for me and my sister. It was my mother alone who did everything to make ends meet,” says Dy, who chose to use his mother’s maiden name in honor of her efforts to provide a decent life for him.
Even though he never grew up with his father by his side, Dy says that he wanted to follow his dad’s footsteps and pursue a boxing career. “My mom prohibited me to compete in boxing because she wanted me to focus on my studies,” he shares. “Even if I was not raised on my father’s side, it was my dream to be a boxer ever since. I knew I had the talent, but I just haven’t developed it back then.”
Born in Parañaque and raised in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, Dy believes that he was predestined to be a fighter when his close friend ardently introduced him to MMA. His growing interest led him to join a group in Davao to learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu before including Muay Thai and wrestling on his résumé.
Dy stressed that the sport’s concept of being a multi-faceted competitor was the major factor in his decision to shift his attention from boxing to MMA. “Boxing is a one-dimensional sport, but in MMA, you have to be well-rounded in order for you to be successful,” he says. “You have to learn the necessary disciplines to improve your game because you will never know where the fight will go.” At 19 years old, he started to strut his wares in amateur competitions such as Universal Reality Combat Championship’s University Challenge and Butuan Xtreme Combat. Dy strapped on four-ounce gloves as a pro for the first time in October 2011, trouncing a local fighter named Ryan Taclan by way of second-round stoppage. Ever since his triumphant debut, he has won ten of his 18 matches.
While being the son of a Pinoy boxing icon is definitely something to be proud of, Dy would like to create his own legacy.
"At the end of the day, he’s still my father. To be known as the son of Rolando Navarrete is my honor, but at the same time, I want to create my own name,” he clarifies. “I don’t want to be just the son of Rolando Navarrete.”
Getting UFC’s attention
Since his maiden appearance in the professional ranks, Dy has been very vocal of his dream to become a UFC fighter. During his formative years as a young athlete in the sport, he made a bit of traction for himself with an impressive stint in Pacific Xtreme Combat (PXC).
His 7-3 win-loss standing in the Guam-headquartered organization raised Dy's stock enough to earn a shot at the UFC, owning outstanding wins over Kyle Reyes, Han Bin Park, Koyomi Matsushima, and Aydin Mrouki.
On two weeks notice, he inked a four-fight deal with the UFC and accepted a three-round featherweight encounter against Alex Caceres in June 2017. However, he lost the bout in the second round via doctor stoppage.
Three months later, Dy fought Japanese spitfire Teruto Ishihara, dropping another loss by way of unanimous decision. He was able to capture his first win under the UFC banner in November of the same year, where he outpointed China’s Wuliji Buren in a catchweight contest.
In his final UFC match in June 2018, he was knocked out by New Zealand’s Shane Young with a brutal elbow strike in the second round. After finishing up his four-fight agreement, the promotion opted not to renew his contract and severed its ties with him.
Life outside the UFC
Dy admits that his release from the UFC was a bitter pill to swallow, causing him to entertain the idea of hanging up the gloves for good.
“I was sad, really sad. It was my dream to be in the UFC, but I blew it,” he says.
He attributes his sudden exit from the company to several factors, including the rockstar lifestyle that he embraced since he became part of the talent-filled UFC roster.
“At that time, the focus was gone. I was partying a lot, which I did not do when I was still in both regional and local promotions,” he confesses. “I forgot that I am a professional MMA athlete. It made me arrogant and swell-headed. It cost me everything.”
The fighter says that it affected his life outside of the cage. “I had relationship problems, and I had to deal with injuries. Honestly, it is one of the most heartbreaking phases of my life,” Dy elaborates.
As he was about to throw in the towel, Dy had a change of heart when he received an offer from Abu Dhabi Warriors to face Jordan’s Izzeddine Al Derbani at its fifth live event last January.
“They gave me an offer to fight again. I thought long and hard about it. I just gave it a try. When I was training for that specific fight, I found out that my warrior spirit is still within me,” he recollects.
In his first bout since being cut by the UFC, Dy was nothing short of spectacular as he steamrolled Al Derbani to claim a first-round technical knockout victory.
“That fight was an eye-opener. It reminded me why I love this sport. It brought back my focus and discipline in training,” he explains. “It also made me realize why I got released from the UFC. In this field, I can’t play on the highest stage of MMA being half-committed.”
His scintillating conquest of Al Derbani had a rousing follow-up triumph this March when he knocked out Pakistan’s Mehmosh Raza in Brave Combat Federation’s first foray into the Philippines. Dy sent Raza’s mouthguard flying with a left hook-right straight combination in the first round, registering the fourth knockout win of his career.
After winning two consecutive matches in emphatic fashion, Dy was given a title shot by Abu Dhabi Warriors. (They have rebranded as UAE Warriors under the Palm Sports management.)
Vying for the inaugural UAE Warriors featherweight championship last May, Dy did not disappoint as he outworked Kazakhstan’s Erzhan Estanov over the course of five rounds to score a unanimous victory and take home the gold-plated strap.
Reviving the UFC dream
With his current success outside the UFC, Dy believes that he is able to put himself back on his former employer’s radar.
“I am expecting a call already, to be honest. I am hoping for it,” he says.
Dy cites fellow PXC alumnus Louis Smolka as an example. The latter had to win three matches in the local circuit before being re-signed by the UFC in late 2018. “Smolka won three fights outside the UFC. He even won a title in one promotion. It’s the same with my case, so I believe it’s going to happen. It is inevitable,” he declares.
The 145-pound weight class in the UFC has been often described as a shark tank, housing the likes of division kingpin Max Holloway, Alexander Volkanovski, Brian Ortega, Jose Aldo, and Frankie Edgar.
Although he was unable to reach even the Top 15 of the UFC featherweight rankings in his initial run, Dy is confident that he will climb to greater heights if he is given another chance to set foot inside the Octagon.
“I love fighting. Deep within me, I know I can do it. If the UFC re-signs me, I will prove it,” he boldly says. “No one will stop me from creating my legacy in MMA. I am not done yet.”
PHOTOGRAPHS BY YIN QUINTIN