“It Was an Honor” — Jon Delos Reyes on UFC Manila’s “Fight of the Night”

It’s safe to say Jon Delos Reyes had his back against the wall this past weekend, as he faced off against Roldan Sangcha-An in a flyweight bout at UFC Fight Night: Manila.

Their bloody battle, which netted “Fight of the Night” honors, was waged with Delos Reyes’ UFC career likely on the line — and in his opponent’s home country.

That opponent, Sangcha-An, who resides in Baguio City, Philippines, received a warm ovation from a Mall of Asia Arena crowd who had long awaited a visit from the UFC.

But, it seemed Delos Reyes, who goes by the nickname “The Heat,” was right at home, too.

Delos Reyes is based in Las Vegas now, but he was born and raised in Guam and cut his teeth in the Pacific Island MMA circuit, beginning in 2008. Saturday’s bout, in fact, marked his sixth in the Philippines, which is a country particularly close to his heart. His family is of Filipino origins, and he proudly sports a tattoo on his chest of a sun with eight rays — the same sun symbol which is emblazoned on the country’s flag.

Delos Reyes finally attracted the UFC’s attention, and made his promotional debut last year, becoming only the second fighter from Guam in the UFC history after John Tuck (who also fought, and won, at Saturday’s event). But after suffering losses in his first two bouts, including one against recent title challenger Kyoji Horiguchi, Delos Reyes entered the Octagon with an unclear future.

But he came to do battle, and had a raucous crowd on Saturday for that first UFC event in the Philippines. According to Reyes, and his co-manager and longtime training partner Lloyd Cubacub, that setting was significant.

“First, it’s an honor to fight in the Philippines,” Delos Reyes said in a phone interview yesterday. “And, having the ‘Fight of the Night’ in the Philippines makes it even better.”

“I think they said there were 14,000 people in the crowd, but the energy you felt was more than that,” Cubacub said, of the experience in Delos Reyes’ corner Saturday. “I think Guam brought close to 1000 people (to the arena). You might say Jon Tuck is the BJ Penn of Guam, and Jon Delos Reyes is following in his tracks.”

The fighting spirit of the region was on display in the bout between Sangcha-An and Delos Reyes, especially after a cut opened over Delos Reyes’ right eye in the second round.

“You saw that in the fight, so much passion in our fighters,” Cubacub said. “Jon was a bloody mess. We saw him getting that cut, but I know he’s thinking, if I lose this fight I’m going to get cut (from the UFC), and it was so hard to make it there (to the UFC). For him to go in and finish that fight – the game plan was out the window; he was going to finish that fight. And that’s what he did.”

“I feel great,” Delos Reyes said, who finally ended the fight with a rear naked choke. “It was the first UFC event in Manila, and I have a lot of family out there. Coming from Guam, my friends and family could fly out. It was an honor to fight in Manila.”

Jon Delos Reyes

Jon Delos Reyes (image courtesy of Lloyd Cubacub)

One might say the Manila crowd honored the fight too, as they cheered both fighters at bout’s end. In a brief interview in the Octagon after the bout, an exhausted Delos Reyes remarked: “I came for war and he was ready. We’re both Filipinos and we’ve got that fighting pride,” to the crowd’s delight.

The bout, the first between two fighters of Filipino origins in the UFC, also earned the attention of UFC officials, who named the bout “Fight of the Night” — earning Sangcha-An and Delos Reyes a cool $50,000 bonus each.

But unfortunately, confusion over a patch on Delos Reyes’ trunks was also subject of discussion — something Delos Reyes wanted to clear up.

Delos Reyes wore a patch with the words “Avoid the Lloyd,” with a caricature of a panda, for the bout. An image of it circulated online, alleging that the patch was a reference to controversial jiu-jitsu instructor Lloyd Irvin, who has been accused of sexual misconduct (along with several of his students). A similar panda logo has been used in the past to lampoon Irvin, so many observers made the connection.

But Delos Reyes says that wasn’t the intention at all. It was, in fact, a reference to co-manager Lloyd Cubacub.

“It’s for Lloyd, who is one of my good friends,” said Delos Reyes. “Lloyd is one of the guys who has gotten me where I am today.”

“The phrase ‘Avoid the Lloyd’ goes back to my high school days,” Cubacub said. “Before I got into jiu-jitsu or MMA, I was a basketball player. Remember “Hack-a-Shaq?” I would ‘hack’ guys just to help my team; get the guys who can’t shoot free throws on the line.”

“That’s what I was notorious for,” he continued. “Guys were starting to ‘avoid the Lloyd.’ I’m Asian, and I was always sleepy riding the bus, so – a sleepy bear, a panda — that’s how the logo came about. I manage Jon, so I’m one of his confidants, teammates, so he put that patch on his shorts.”

Delos Reyes also made a statement on the matter on his Facebook page: “I have no stance or personal ill feelings towards Lloyd Irvin. However I’d like to assure everyone that I DO NOT condone any form of violence against women.”

With that behind him, Delos Reyes looks ahead to a brighter future. When we spoke he was on the way to a hero’s welcome in Guam, and he says the cut he sustained won’t keep him out of action long.

“The cut was actually from an old cut we had a couple of years back,” he said. “It re-opened. It’s not that bad, maybe next two or three weeks I can start training again. I should be fighting again by the end of the year.”

Jon Delos Reyes and Lloyd Cubacub thanked their support in Guam and the Philippines; and wanted to say a special thanks to Stephen Roberto of Purebred Jiu-Jitsu Guam, who aided Delos Reyes in his preparation for the bout and also connected us for this interview.