From US$6 to US$20,000 paychecks: Filipino fighter embraces the grind to provide for family

From US$6 to US$20,000 paychecks: Filipino fighter embraces the grind to provide for family

Mixed martial arts lifted Jenel Lausa out of poverty and thrust him into the bright lights of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

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SINGAPORE: For winning his first-ever competitive fight - at the age of 16 - Jenel Lausa was rewarded with 300 Philippine pesos (US$6). For emerging victorious in his last professional bout, the boy from Iloilo province walked away with an estimated US$22,500 payslip.

And for everything that has changed for the 28-year-old mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter now signed to the premier Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) promotion, one thing remains the same.

“I pretty much fought to be able to provide for family, and I still do,” Lausa told Channel NewsAsia over the phone from his hotel in Buffalo, New York, where his next contest is scheduled to take place on Sunday (Apr 9).

He still remembers growing up in the coastal municipality of Concepcion, where he had to work an array of jobs - from pallbearer to farmer - to survive.

Then, as a teenager, Lausa, like many Filipinos, found himself stirred by the world-beating feats of compatriot and boxing great Manny Pacquiao - enough for him to strap on the gloves for a crack at the local leagues.

A transition to MMA followed, and after securing championship belts under the Pacific Xtreme Combat organisation as well as the Philippines Boxing Federation, it was clear that his knack for a scrap was what could put food on the table for his loved ones.

Lausa became a husband after his first MMA fight in 2011 and then father to a son, now aged three, who provides the extra stimulus for his success. He has no wish for his family to endure the same struggle and hardship of his childhood.

“Definitely my old lifestyle, what I used to do, is motivation for me,” said Lausa. “Now I'm in a much better financial state and I'm able to help my parents back home. All of my family are in a much better place.”

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Lausa celebrates winning his first UFC fight at an event in Melbourne, Australia (Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)


Yet, there might be a still greater weight bearing on his shoulders.

Prior to the signing of unbeaten 20-year-old prospect Carls John de Tomas for the upcoming UFC Singapore event, Lausa was the only remaining Filipino representative in the promotion.

And a triumphant debut in November last year, over China's Yao Zhikui, saw his stock raised considerably in an expectant nation hungry for more success in the fight game.

It is a fact recognised by his employers. For viewers in the Philippines only, the UFC will provide a free Facebook livestream of his impending early morning flyweight (57kg) encounter with Russia's Magomed Bibulatov.

"A lot of people will be watching," Lausa acknowledged. "But I don't feel pressure. I'm confident, relaxed and ready to go out there to have fun and just soak it in."

Lausa (seven wins, two losses in MMA) will need to be at his absolute best - and more - to overcome the odds against the undefeated Bibulatov (13 wins).

With his well-rounded skillset combining the Soviet grappling art of sambo as well as Kempo karate, the Chechen native comes in as the heavy favourite, but Lausa is unfazed.

"My training and preparation, everything has been on point," he said. "Magomed is definitely a good wrestler, it's something we really respect and trained for and we'll be ready come the fight."

Beyond the Philippines, an entire region of fight fans will be hoping Lausa improves on a less than stellar mark left by Southeast Asians in the UFC.

None of his predecessors - countrymen Dave Galera, Mark Eddiva, Roldan Sangcha-an and Singaporean Royston Wee - lasted more than four fights before their contracts were terminated, with Wee the only one able to string together two straight wins before faltering as well.

"I've learned a lot from their past experience," said Lausa. "I see the effort they've put in, and I make sure I too put in a lot to try and get a winning streak together."

"I'm all about hard work," he added.

And for a constant reminder to keep this industriousness as his bedrock, Lausa need only look back to the man who started it all for him.

"I really look up to Manny for his humble beginnings and the hard work he put in," he said. "I'm trying my best to represent the Philippines and one day be as influential as Manny."

Source: CNA/jo