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Filipino Ruel Pañales takes on Japanese foe in Road to UFC

MANILA, Philippines – Heading into Road to UFC Season 3, Ruel Pañales believes that his international fighting experience will help when he enters the famous Octagon on Sunday, May 19, against Japanese flyweight Toki Matsui.

Road to UFC Season 3 is the hugely successful “win and advance” tournament that will take top MMA prospects from Asia and give them a pathway to a UFC contract. In the opening round, 32 mixed martial arts athletes will be competing in each of four weight classes, and four non-tournament bouts will be included to provide more opportunities to showcase up-and-comers.

Pañales, the Masbate native who is fighting out of Rolando Dy’s DYIncredible Fighting and Fitness Center in Cavite, is 5-1 with 1 no contest. His last five bouts were all international matches.

His international debut came back in 2022 when his strikes stopped Dagestani Magomed Gadzhimuradov in the second round of UAE Warriors 30. He battled Mohammad Farhad to a No Contest in Brave Combat Federation 66, lost to Egyptian Maysara Mohammed in Brave CF71, then defeated Chinese fighter Jianbing Mao via first-round knockout in Brace CF 76 before getting called up to the Big Show.

And the 27-year-old Pañales isn’t going to let this opportunity slip away.

“Ang UFC ay hinahangad ng lahat ng mixed martial arts fighter,” Ruel underscored. “Minsan lang dumating itong pagkakataon na ito kaya dapat (we are) at our best.”

All the Filipinos who took part in this tournament were first-timers in the international scene. Whether due to nerves or the lack of exposure, the Pinoy contingent almost always bombed out. Filipino-American Mark Climaco, who fought in Season Two, is the exception.

“Aware tayo diyan, pero ang balak ko ay to go all the way,” Pañales said. 

Dy, himself a former UFC fighter who went 1-3 in the world’s top combat sports promotion, is Pañales’ coach.

“I think that Ruel’s experience and willingness to learn and work hard will be the difference,” noted Dy of his ward. “Imagine, in 2020, zero knowledge siya sa mixed martial arts. In three years, he is now, 5-1. In his first international fight, he defeated Dagestani Magomed Gadzhimuradov. And we know that Dagestanis are some of the