MANILA, Philippines – Once again, Eduard Folayang will step inside a cage, this time however, there is more pressure and more responsibilities.
Winning the gold is the first step, defending it is the next for 32-year old Folayang, who captured the ONE Championship lightweight title last November in Singapore. A knee to the face followed by an onslaught of right punches to the grounded Shinya Aoki ended the night of the Japanese grappler. Just like that a new star was born.
Instantly, “Landslide” Folayang turned into the poster-boy of Filipino mixed martial arts (MMA). And while he is excited for a defense in front of his hometown crowd, he feels the pressure of the situation.
“Well, nae-excite ako na mangyayari yung first title defense ko dito sa Pilipinas. Alam kong malaking pressure sakin, pero tinitignan ko ‘to bilang malaking inspirasyon para mas makita ng mga kakabayan natin lumaki yung mixed martial arts dito sa Pilipinas,” said the champion.
(Well, I’m excited that my first title defense will take place here in the Philippines. I know it’s a lot of pressure, but I see it as a motivation to show my countrymen the growth of mixed martial arts in the Philippines.)
The rise of mixed martial arts (MMA) as a global sport gave Filipino cage fighters the chance to showcase their ultimate fighting prowess to make names for themselves in Filipino combat sports history. And that is what Folayang did.
“Napakahaba ng dinaanan ko para marating yung area na ito, yung pagkakataong ito, so hindi ko ‘to sasayangin. Kailangan ituloy tuloy ko para mas marami pang mai-inspire,” Folayang told reporters.
(The road to get to this place and this opportunity is a long one, so I won’t let this come to waste. I need to keep doing what I am doing in order to inspire more people.)
More than gold
Presently, the Baguio native is not only the ONE lightweight champion; he is also the captain of a new generation of Filipino mixed martial artists, amid the rapid ascend of the sport’s popularity.
Filipino-American athletes Brandon Vera, who holds ONE’s heavyweight belt, and former NCAA Division one All-American amateur wrestler Mark Munoz helped popularize MMA in the Philippines with their exposure in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
However, Folayang is the best embodiment of the local Filipino fighter. His never-say-die attitude despite his short stature, to go along with his massive heart represent the average Filipino’s underdog resiliency.
“I’m inviting them to come and watch and see (for) themselves, on their own, how I improved and evolved – not only as a champion – but as a fighter,” was the message of the 32-year old fighter to his hometown supporters.
Folayang’s “evolution” is not merely a claim. Even Ev Ting, the Malaysian challenger Folayang will face on April 21 at Mall of Asia Arena, has noticed it too.
“Eduard has shown his adaptability, especially in his last fight. His wrestling has gone up immensely,” the Malaysian challenger stated.
Team Lakay, Folayang’s camp, is known for their vicious striking but their ground game had been their biggest criticism in the past years. However, Eduard claims that the Baguio-based camp has been improving on their weaknesses as of late. And Folayang’s victory over a premium grappler in Aoki is a solid demonstration to his statement.
“They always tell us that our ground game isn’t good so we take that as a challenge for us to grow,” said the champion. “I believe we will be able to have more home-grown fighters coming up – not only here in the Philippines – but in Asia,” he added.
A hungry challenger
Ting displayed his dominance over the past years and is currently on a 4-fight win streak. Out of Ting’s last 4 fights, two of his victories were achieved by choking out formidable Filipino warriors Eric Kelly and Folayang’s teammate Honorio Banario.
Ting also owns a victory over Kamal Shalorus, the man who defeated Folayang 4 years ago.
“Obviously it does give me an edge that I know that I have a win over somebody that had beaten the champion. However, I’m prepared for the best version of Eduard Folayang on the 21st of April,” the challenger stated.
Ting believes, however, that Folayang is a different fighter from the one who succumbed to Shalorus. When asked about the holes he sees in Eduard’s game Ev answered, “As I’ve mentioned he’s really adaptable in his game. I mean three years ago I would say his ground game, but look at him in his last fight. He just nullified the best grappler of all time so he’s a whole new machine.”
The 27-year old challenger also claimed that he is not fazed by the fact that he will be facing the champion in front of a Filipino crowd. “With much respect to the champion, come fight night it’s business,” Ting declared, “At 25 minutes in the cage it’s just me and him. It’s simply business, it’s nothing personal.”
A grand clash
The 5-foot-9 Folayang will have a two-inch height and 5-inch reach superiority as well as the crowd support over his opponent. Ting, however, will have the age advantage as he is five years younger than the veteran champion.
“I learned from the mistakes of my teammates and those Filipino fighters (who) had fallen (during) their fights against him,” Folayang declared.
Folayang also revealed that he had been studying his challenger’s game. “Yung isa sa pinaka-importanteng aspect ng pakikipaglaban ay kailangan mong malaman o matutunan yung mga areas na magaling yung kalaban mo. So of course ginawa ko yung assignment ko. Pinanood ko yung mga laban ng kalaban ko,” he said.
(One of the most important aspects of fighting is knowing or learning about your opponent’s strong areas. So of course, I did my assignment. I watched my opponent’s fights.)
The Malaysian fighter, on the other hand, believes that the fight could go either way. “To be honest I can’t even give you a prediction. I feel like both of us are at the peak of our careers. We’re both very explosive, we’re both very well-rounded. I think at the end of the day it’s just who wants it a little bit more,” Ting explained.
“I feel like it’s a mirror match. It feels like I’m fighting my older brother,” said the number-one contender.
As Folayang will look establish his legacy as the standard-bearer of Philippine MMA, Ting will try to end his Cinderella story to establish a legacy of his own. With less than a month before this massive clash, we will soon witness the emergence of ONE Championship’s supreme lightweight. – Rappler.com
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