Pinoy combat-sports pioneer Onassis Parungao recalls MMA’s early days

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 01 2020 11:46 PM

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Did you know that Filipino-Spanish fighter Onassis Parungao turned out to be one of first few fighters to compete in mixed martial arts?

Parungao was born to a Filipino father and a Spanish mother, grew up in the US, and saw action in UFC 7 in 1995 when fighters didn't use gloves and there was no weight classes.

“I was watching it and, you know, back then because of the rules and no weight classes, no gloves, I was doing, you know . . . got in a lot of street fights being a Navy kid,” Parungao said in an interview on "The Hitlist Vodcast."

“So I have that still here (motions to chest), I wanna get out and I wanna do it, and then I realized, ‘Hey maybe I can try that’.”

Parungao, who studied arnis de mano, kung fu and judo, said he tried landing a spot in the UFC, banking on his Filipino heritage.

The UFC, an upstart company at the time, liked the idea and had him pitted against a wrestler named Francesco Maturi.

“To tell you the truth, I knew that there wasn’t a Filipino guy there so I was banking on that they would let me in there, and just all the stars aligned and they just worked,” he said. 

In his lone UFC appearance, Parungao took to the octagon wearing a white shirt that had “Philippines” written on the back. 

The promotion back then wanted to hype fighters up and he was marketed as a “Pintakasi champion”. 

“I’m not a Pintakasi champion, my teacher was,” Parungao clarified. “But I think they said certain things to hype the fighters up. I wanna get that on record, that I never claimed to be that.” 

Inside the cage, he clipped Maturi with a left straight, worked him on the ground before forcing him to tap out due to strikes in the first round.
 
But he quit competitive MMA after 2 bouts. Parungao received offers in Japan's Pancrase promotion, but he backed out due to factors outside competition.

"In Japan, you have bathhouses, there’s girls there and I’ll be fighting and stuff like that, and in my early 20s, all these testosterone, I just got married you know, you’re gonna put me around other fighters and girls and all this other stuff? Like, no way. I didn’t wanna do that,” he said.

Looking back, Parungao believes MMA was more interesting back then.

"It was truly like the Wild West. Why do I prefer it a bit more? No one have seen this before, here's taekwondo and ninjistus, everybody was like, 'Holy sh-- what am I looking at?'"

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