MMA-fighting cousins save the day for wushu

JAKARTA - A pair of cousins who dabble in mixed martial arts won wushu's only golds on Monday, part of a nine-gold haul for the Philippine delegation on the penultimate day of the 26th Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia.

Mark Eddiva ruled the men's 65kg category with a convincing 2-0 win over Indonesian Youne Victorio Senduk to claim wushu's first gold here. He was immediately followed on the mat by his first cousin, Eduard Folayang, who so dominated Laos' Udon Khankay that the Laotian's corner literally threw in the towel midway through the second round of their men's 70kg. duel.

Two other Filipino bets in the sanshou, or sparring, competition of wushu settled for silver medals. Mariane Mariano, a silver medalist in the Beijing Olympics where wushu was a demonstration sport, bowed to Vietnam's Thi Ly Tan, 0-2, the finals of the women's 56kg. category. Benjie Rivera was totally outclassed by Vietnam's Van Hau Phan and lost by a similar 0-2 score in the finals of the men's 56kg. category.

Earlier in the day, the trio of Engelbert Addongan, John Keithly Chan and Eleazar Jacob missed out on the gold in men's duilian by a hairline, tallying a 9.72 that was just short of Myanmar's gold-medal performance of 9.73. Their counterparts in women's duilian fared slightly worse, settling for the bronze with a score of 9.68. Singapore (9.71) bagged the gold while Brunei (9.70) claimed the silver. The day before, Daniel Parantac also setted for the silver in the taijiquan + taijijian competition.

That left the cousins Eddiva and Folayang as the last hopes for wushu to salvage a gold medal, and thankfully both delivered.

The 24-year-old Eddiva, the gold medalist in Laos two years ago, fights as a featherweight in the local MMA circuit Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC), where he has a perfect 5-0 record. Originally a taekwondo enthusiast, the computer science student at the University of the Cordilleras said he switched to wushu because the sport allowed more moves. "I like wushu," he said in Filipino. "It has kicking, boxing and wrestling all together."

Eddiva's resume also includes a bronze in the 2004 World Cup as well as a bronze in the Manila 2005 SEA Games. He said next year, he will probably get busier in the URCC.

Folayang has also met some success in the URCC, where he is the current welterweight champion. At 27, he has now won three SEA Games golds, counting the ones he garnered in 2003 and 2005. His weight class was scrapped in the 2007 and 2009 SEAG editions, so technically he has been undefeated in the biennial games for eight years now.

The former PE instructor at the University of the Cordilleras also won a bronze in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan and a silver in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. In the recent World Wushu Championships, he beat a Frenchman in the first round before falling to an Iranian in the second.

Eddiva and Folayang thus claimed the only two golds of the wushu delegation, and even though 13 out of the 14 wushu athletes went home with a medal, the overall performance left Philippine Wushu Federation secretary-general Julian Camacho underwhelmed.

"We were expecting at least three," Camacho said. "There were three to four golds that got away."

When asked if he was happy with his federation's performance, he replied in Filipino: "Not really."

During the athletes' send-off before the SEA Games, Camacho was excited about wushu's gold medal prospects since the PWF had just come from its best-ever finish at the World Wushu Championships, winning two golds, two silvers and four bronzes to finish fifth overall among 25 countries and ahead of other Southeast Asian countries.

As it turned out, the country just matched the total gold medal haul from the Worlds here at the SEA Games. Camacho singled out Mariano, whom he said had a good chance at the gold but chose to fight her taller Vietnamese opponent from a distance. "Mariane didn't follow the instructions. The Vietnamese was a tall fighter, and Marianne is short. So if there's space between both of you, when the opponent kicks, you'll get hit."

Camacho said that although many of the wushu athletes are still among the region's best, there's a need to infuse new blood into the national training pool. "Some of the sanshou fighters need to retire. At the most, [they're good for] one more SEA Games."

The wushu chief said they have already identified several prospects in the provinces and plan to bring them to Manila soon for training.

Camacho also revealed that wushu has made it to the short list of new sports that will be included in the 2020 Olympics. "This time, if it gets in, it will be a medal sport," he noted, adding that the president of the International Wushu Federation, Yu Zaiqing, is currently a vice president for the International Olympic Committee.