Mark Mugen Striegl is turning heads as he becomes the first Filipino to compete in the UFC in the Fight Island on Sunday. Image Credit: UFC

Dubai: Mark Mugen Striegl is set to make history at Fight Island on Sunday when he will become the first Filipino fighter to compete in the UFC on another blockbuster MMA card.

Strigel, who has an MMA record of 18 wins with two defeats, will begin his UFC career in the ultra-competitive bantamweight division against Russia’s Said Nurmagomedov (13-2), a cousin of world champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Having already drawn comparisons to Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao for his fighting style and attitude, Strigel has given his sport-loving country the hope of becoming a new international superstar in combat sports.

For centuries, the Philippines has produced feared warriors and Striegl will be inspired by that tradition on his UFC debut against a fighter whose home in Dagestan, Russia, is no less illustrious for yielding warriors of their own.

Following in the footsteps of Manny Pacquiao, Striegl has based himself in the cool mountain climate of Baguio City on the northern Philippine island of Luzon which has in the past hosted the eight-weight world champion training camps. “There’s the high-altitude training but there’s also the history there,” said Striegl, who was born in Tokyo to an American father and Filipino mother. “Once I’d fought there, I couldn’t get myself to leave.

In another comparison to Pacquiao, Striegl, 32, appears to be obsessed by combat sports and his passion for MMA is overflowing.

“It’s a crazy, crazy game,” he said, “This is just one of those adventures I will look back on one day and just laugh about. It’s super fun.”

Sunday’s fight against Nurmagomedov was originally scheduled for August in Las Vegas, when Striegl tested positive for COVID-19 despite having spent several weeks in isolation in Manila prior to travelling to the US.

Now rescheduled for Fight Island 6, his fight with Nurmagomedov is the first of Streigl’s four-fight contract with the UFC.

Looking back on his ordeal with COVID-19, Striegl took out the positives: “Thankfully, it came and it went. I had a fever and lost my sense of taste and smell. But now I have had a full fight camp and I am super stoked.

“I’m expecting a war. There’s never an easy fight in the UFC and I am expecting Said to bring out the best in me. I’m never in a boring fight. He’s from the mountains of Russia and I’m from the mountains of the Philippines, so this is going to be a good one.”

Striegl spent his college years in California, before falling in love with MMA which encouraged his move to make the Philippines his home.

For over a decade, he fought in regional fight promotions including Asia’s One Fighting Championship and the Philippine-based Universal Reality Combat Championship, where he won the featherweight belt. He is also the reigning SEA Games combat sambo gold medalist.

Baguio City helped share the greatest athlete that the Philippines has produced in Manny Pacquiao and has since become a nerve centre for combat sports gyms such as Shape Up Boxing and Team Lakay MMA, where Pacquiao himself trained for his iconic fights against Miguel Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez and Oscar de la Hoya.