World Champion Afan named UAAP Judo Rookie of the Year

On top of ending a 16-year championship drought, the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons capped off their UAAP Season 86 Men’s Judo campaign in dominant fashion as they also secured two individual awards. 

One was earned by black belt judoka and reigning Most Valuable Player, Jeyvee Ferrer, while the other was claimed by the State U youngblood and newly crowned Rookie of the Year, Fierre Afan.

Despite starting his collegiate judo journey just recently, Afan has already made a name for himself as he accomplished feats at the international level.

In an interview with Tinig ng Plaridel, the 19-year-old grappler recalled his first international tournament in Astana, Kazakhstan for the United World Wrestling (UWW) Grappling Championships.

It was five years ago. I was inexperienced. First time ko eh,” said Afan.

Five years later, he competed under the same roof and bested Kazakhstani fighter Artem Khvan to clinch four medals— two gold and two silver in his 2023 UWW Asian tilt as a World Combat Games (WCG) qualifier.

Three months later, Afan showcased his strength in Warsaw, Poland by taking down France’s Ethan Sebastian Forrez with a 15-4 record, making him the first Filipino UWW Grappling Champion.

Rookie year

Ten years from now, Afan aims to master his striking skills and become a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. But before that, he wants to make a mark on his collegiate run in the UAAP Season 86.

Fierre Afan wears a yellow belt in line with his teammates from the UP Men’s Judo Team on a Thursday evening at the UFC Gym, U.P. Town Center. Photo by Mark Villamora

Although both of the sports Afan plays have the same goal of bringing their opponent to the ground, the mechanics are still different. Grappling grants the player points for certain actions, and declares the one with the most points as the winner. Judo, while still composed of a scoring system, can immediately crown the player who can take their opponent down first— with certain restrictions grappling would allow.

I only get the legs [in grappling], then lift them up, right? Or submit him. But in Judo, you can’t touch the legs. So, I think that’s gonna be the biggest adjustment because I’m used to taking down people by taking their legs,” Afan said. “But my seniors are helping me.”

Afan also expressed his deep appreciation for the team’s family-like bond under Coach Edgar Ordillas, who was also the one who “saw his potential” and recruited him to the UP MJT.

First sacrifices

To achieve feats as notable as his international titles, the act of letting go became a necessity for Afan both on and off the mat as he had to let go of some routines and other commitments to allocate more time and effort for his training days.

The intense preparation for the UWW World Grappling Championship alone forced him to sleep multiple nights in the DEFTAC gym in Sucat, Paranaque after training, treating it like his home.

The fatigue from his jam-packed schedules, however, is no reason for the world titlist to back down from his dreams. Asked about instances when he ever felt that the weight of being a decorated grappler has been too much to carry, he opened up about a completely different obstacle— a common concern among underreported sports in the country.

Minsan hindi sa hirap ng training, but sa support,” Afan said. “Sa totoo lang, mga sports talaga namin, hindi nabibigyan ng pansin unless magbigay ka ng medals, which is ‘yun ‘yung goal ko para sa next generation.”

Afan also expressed his desire for all combat sports aside from grappling to gain spotlight. He believes Filipinos can counter an opponent’s height advantage with one’s “skill and mind”. 

Oo, may reach advantage ‘yan pero same lang kami ng weight so kaya pa i-balance out ‘yun. Kaya sa podium na minsan nasa first place ako, tapos [the competitors are in] second or third, minsan dito lang ako,” shared Afan as he gestured to his chest, demonstrating the height difference between him and his opponents.

Fierre Afan (second from the right) clinches a bronze at the qualifier event of 2023 World Combat Games in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in May 2023. Photo from Fierre Afan’s Instagram

Afan strives to make up for his smaller physique that comes with being the youngest through his inexhaustible energy and “always at a hundred percent” mentality.

He demonstrated this mindset in his most recent international competition at the World Combat Games (WCG), which took place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Oct. 24.

A total of 1,657 athletes from 80 countries took part in that tournament. Afan’s category, wrestling, had the most number of participants at 288.

“Medyo mabigat ‘tong competition na ‘to kasi ako ‘yung pinakabata, tapos veterans lahat ng kalaban ko. So, ako talaga ‘yung pinaka-pinaka-pinaka-underdog,” he explained. “Pero, ‘yun nga. Masaya ako kasi I respect the people I’m gonna fight.”

Fortunately for Afan, his dream of fighting these “legends” also came with a podium finish as he took home the Philippines’ fourth bronze medal in the 2023 WCG.