Filipino UFC fighter follows Pacquiao's mountain path to glory
Mark Striegl makes his UFC debut in Abu Dhabi this weekend after breaking down a path trodden by centuries of feared Filipino warriors, followed by the great Manny Pacquiao.
Striegl settled in the cool mountainous climate of Baguio City and it paid off when he became the only fighter living in the Philippines on the UFC's books.
"There is altitude training, but there is also history there," said the Filipino-American Striegl. "Once I fought there, I couldn't bring myself to leave."
Baguio City - on the northern Philippine island of Luzon - was the location of the training camp for eight-weight world champion Pacquiao in the past.
32-year-old MMA bantamweight Striegl first visited Baguio a decade ago for a mixed martial arts match.
He met a local woman and fell in love with both her and the popular Filipino vacation destination, which offers a welcome break from the sticky heat of much of the vast tropical archipelago.
The native inhabitants of the Igorot, legendary warriors who resisted colonial rule for centuries, live in the mountains.
From 1565 to 1898 they fought successfully to withdraw the gold found on their land from the Spanish colonial powers.
They continued their defiance after Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States. They then fought against Japanese occupiers in World War II.
"Everyone knows the warriors from the mountains and this story really surrounds you," said Striegl.
Today, Baguio City is home to gyms like Shape Up Boxing and Team Lakay MMA, which have featured a number of high profile fighters like Pacquiao and Joshua Pacio, the strawweight MMA champion of the Asia-based One Championship.
- "Life in a Movie" -
Striegl, who has an MMA record of 18 wins with two losses, starts his UFC career in the talented bantamweight division against the Russian Said Nurmagomedov (13: 2) on Sunday morning on "Fight Island" in Abu Dhabi.
It's a debut that's delayed from August when Striegl tested positive for Covid-19 just two days before a first fight at the UFC base in Las Vegas, despite being in isolation in Manila for weeks prior to his trip.
After 10 days in quarantine fighting the coronavirus, he was released to resume training and is now coming on his date with Nurmagomedov - the first competition of Streigl's UFC contract with four fights.
"Fortunately it came and went," said Striegl of the virus.
"I had a fever and lost my sense of taste and smell. But now I've had a full camp and I'm super excited. It's almost like I've lived in a movie."
- 'Crazy, crazy game' -
Striegl was born in Tokyo to an American father and Filipino mother and began karate and wrestling. He spent his college years in California before turning to MMA and making the Philippines his home.
Striegl grafted regional combat promotions like the One Fighting Championship in Asia and the Universal Reality Combat Championship in the Philippines, where he won the featherweight belt, for a decade. He is also the reigning sambo gold medalist for the Southeast Asian Games.
"It's a crazy, crazy game," said Striegl. "This is just one of those adventures that one day I'll look back on and just laugh. It's great fun."
The UFC was one of the first international sports organizations to restart during the Covid-19 pandemic, putting up sports bubbles in Florida, Las Vegas and then Abu Dhabi, where the action is currently in its second month.
The 28-year-old Nurmagomedov is also a miner from Dagestan, Russia, who is famous for his cousin's production and who fears the UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0), the conqueror of Conor McGregor.
"I expect a war," said Striegl. "There's never an easy fight in the UFC and I expect Said to get the best out of 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 will be a good one."
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