Son of the Bad Boy: Rolando Dy’s quest to exceed his infamous father’s legacy in the Philippines
The Filipino fighter makes his UFC debut in Singapore as he looks to step out of the murky shadow of boxing superstar – and absent dad – Rolando Navarrete
Rolando Dy had only ever seen his father once but it was impossible to escape the man’s shadow.
“I grew up without a father,” says Dy. “But of course people knew who my father was. He was Manny Pacquiao before there was Manny Pacquiao.”
Rolando “the Bad Boy of Dadiangas” Navarrete is a superstar in the Philippines, as famed for his exploits in the ring as he is infamous for his exploits outside of it.
Capturing the WBC super featherweight title from Cornelius Boza Edwards in Italy in 1981 ensured Navarrete was an idol for millions.
The “People’s Champion” counted among his fans the eventual eight-division world champion Pacquiao, who would also fight his way out of the poverty of General Santos City.
Struggles with drugs, a prison stretch for sexual assault and a string of high-profile relationships ensured Navarrete was never long out of the spotlight, and these days his story is held up as a cautionary tale to aspiring fighters.
Dy’s mother had ended her relationship with Navarrete when Dy was one year old – and he saw his father again when he was 16 – but there was still something that seemed to bind the two together.
Dy, like his father, grew up loving to fight.
“I liked fist fights when I was young and I don’t know why. Perhaps it is in my blood,” says Dy. “People are always connecting my name to my father. I am thankful that my father’s name is helping me to rise.”
Dy’s moment will come on Saturday night, not, like his father, in the boxing ring but in the Octagon of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), where the 25-year-old makes his debut as part of the UFC Fight Night 11 card.
Dy (8-4-1, one no contest) has been plucked from relative obscurity by the world’s leading mixed martial arts organisation, a late call-up to Singapore to replace injured Chinese fighter Wang Guan and to face American Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres (12-10, one no contest), in a bantamweight bout.
“I consider this a big blessing from above,” says Dy, as he prepares for his big night. “The UFC called out of the blue. I was just sitting in the gym and my uncle told me they wanted to sign me, if I was willing to step up. I said yes, of course. It’s been my dream since day one. It’s been my goal. That’s why I started training in MMA.”
Originally, Dy had considered following in his father’s footsteps. But his mother issued an ultimatum.
“I said I will quit high school and go to boxing and she said if you want to go to your father that is OK but if you are living with me you go study,” recalls Dy. “In my family, where I grew up with my mother’s side, education is the most important thing.”
So Dy finished high school, concentrated on law studies at college, and found himself drawn to MMA.
“I fell in love with it,” he says. “I had six years of study and it was hard to do both but it is possible. It comes down to discipline.”
The Filipino fighter comes to the UFC from the smaller-scale regional circuits but with a record that includes a four-fight unbeaten streak. His opponent has meanwhile been plying his trade for almost a decade with six years on the UFC books.
Dy says he is unfazed by the difference in experience and that he has been preparing for this moment for the past six years.
When news of his signing with the UFC broke back home, a national television broadcaster tracked down his father and staged an impromptu reunion between the pair.
Dy says he was honoured – and happy – to see his father again. But now it’s time for the shadow of the past to be lifted.
“My goal is not enter the UFC just because of my father,” says Dy. “My goal is to be known as Rolando Gabriel Dy, the best fighter in the world, not as Rolando Gabriel Dy, the son of the best fighter in the world.
“I am proud of my father but my goal is to exceed his legacy in the Philippines and I will start that on June 17.”