The Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) is a decade old this year and has put on 41 events in cities all over the Philippines, making it easily the longest running promotion in South East Asia and one of the most established in the world.
It was founded by husband and wife team Bubbles and Alvin Aguilar in 2002. Alvin is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) black belt who has been involved with mixed martial arts (MMA) in the Philippines since virtually day one and did not form the URCC to make his fortune but because he wanted to bring some sort of regulation to the dangerous and violent underground fighting scene he was involved with at the time.
"Well I happened to start training MMA early and I have never stopped training. I was part of a very violent underground culture that saw people shot, stabbed and killed, all because of martial arts. This is because when one fighter would lose the other camp would never accept defeat. I had to put an end to all of that by making it mainstream in a league for everybody to see to end all the violence. Necessity is the mother of all inventions I guess."
The URCC is sanctioned by the Games and Amusement Board in the Philippines which is the official regulatory body for all combat sports. However it is distinctive from most of the famous promotions in the West because it uses a ring, non conventional weight classes and a ten minute opening round.
According to Alvin this is because he wanted to stay as close to the original spirit of MMA as he possibly could while going down the regulatory road.
"I was a student of the UFC founder Rorion Gracie and his brother Royce Gracie way back in 1994 and I asked him why did he use a cage when all of his families Vale Tudo fights were in a ring? He answered that the Americans would not differentiate it from boxing, kickboxing or wrestling. He actually even thought of a moat surrounding the ring with crocodiles. Imagine that? He needed something that would look good for cable, nothing else. He got the cage idea from that Mel Gibson movie."
"So after that all these people now say yes it should be in a cage but they don't know why it was a cage in the first place. In our country, only the chickens fight in a cage! As for the time limit, the first real pure MMA fights had NO TIME LIMIT. That was only instituted for the cable companies and by the athletic commissions."
Alvin feels that having shorter rounds has actually made MMA less entertaining because it encourages fighters to try and score points rather than to look for a finish.
"Look at a typical MMA fight now that has five minute rounds. First they feel each other out for almost a minute. Then one tries for a take down or tries to get a few good punches in. They don't finish, they try to look good for the judges almost turning it into a point fight. Some just hold on and defend because they know 'I only have a minute or two left.' Worse sometimes the guy on top just stays on top punching every few seconds to stay active but not finish just to look good in the eyes of the judges."
The ten minute first round means that it is rare for URCC fights to go the distance, in the last five events the judges have not been called upon to decide a contest once which Alvin feels vindicates the decision to have a longer opening round.
"If its 10mins the fighters really go for the finish as you see always in the URCC because they know if they don't finish the fight they gotta go another 10 mins. As for the weight classes we are Asians so the weight classes have to cater to smaller guys so we follow our boxing weight classes in accordance with the games and amusement board of our country."
During the ten years that he has been putting on events many promotions have come and gone, both in the Philippines and elsewhere. Only a few stand the test of time and Alvin believes the secret of the URCC's success is simple.
"We make it a point to always over deliver at every event. We are honest and don't make ridiculous claims. Our direction is very simple, give fans the best show possible and give them the show that they want. More importantly I am and always have been a fighter and an MMA practitioner first and foremost as opposed to a businessman just trying to make a quick buck off this."
While the URCC is well established in the Philippines the UFC does not appear to be any closer to putting in a live show or even a TUF series there. There has been plenty of talk about it and there is no doubt that the UFC has a huge fanbase in the Philippines but Alvin thinks a few things are holding it back.
"There are a lot of reasons why they have held back from going here. In the end it all boils down to money and that is something our countrymen do not have. Manny Pacquiao is somebody that was raised here in the Philippines and he is somebody we can say that is truly our own. The masses will always see themselves in him as he started poor like most are here and made it."
While the UFC has a lot of fighters with Filipino heritage none of them are homegrown and Alvin believes that people in the Philippines are much more reluctant to get behind an athlete who is not a hundred per cent homegrown.
"The other fighters are referred to as "AM-Boys". They are proud to be Filipinos and I am personally proud of them but the majority of the masses just cannot connect with somebody who looks Filipino has Filipino heritage but acts and talks like an American. It took me awhile to understand this as I also studied in the U.S. when I was younger."
The first ever URCC event to take place outside of the Philippines is scheduled for later this year with Dubai the destination. Alvin will not elaborate any further on that at present but he is looking forward to returning to Manila for the first time in six months for URCC 21 tomorrow night.
"There are lots of fighters to look out for on this card, this is also a whole new generation about to be discovered by the public. We will also have the return of several URCC veterans. I won't mention any names because I might be doing injustice to the other fighters if I do. I can't wait for this Saturday!"
A number of Filipino fighters have become famous since the URCC signed up to the ONE FC Network, in particular Eduard Folayang and Eric Kelly (above). When I was on holiday in the Philippines recently it seemed that MMA was being shown on constant rotation by a variety of networks featuring content from ONE FC, the URCC and the UFC.
The URCC in particular seemed to be being shown on a number of different channels and this is something which Alvin puts down to his promotion's longevity.
"Our main TV partner is Solar Sports. It is owned by one of my best friends and URCC partner Congressman Irwin Tieng. The URCC is now a national event in the Philippines so all channels have featured it in some way or the other. We are also very fortunate to be blessed with many friends and allies that allow us to be featured in all stations. They believe in our movement as we have proved ourselves through the years."
Colt 45 URCC 21 'Warpath'
SMX Convention Centre, Manila
April 28th, 2012
Froilan Sarenas Vs. Nicholas Mann (Super fight)
Alvin Ramirez Vs. Roy Doliguez (Super fight)
Jerson Estoro Vs. Reysaldo Transmonte (Bantamweight fight)
Alcer Lozada Vs.Mark Striegl (Featherweight fight)
Jonathan Sumogat Vs. Mark Joseph Abrillo (Flyweight fight)
Mario Sismundo Vs. Michael Dan Rubio (Featherweight fight)
Mark Dialogo Vs. Fred Lim (Pinweight fight)
Charles de Tomas Vs. Isaac Tuling (Bantamweight fight)
Dennis Salazar Vs. Adam Cacay (Bantamweight fight)