MANILA, Philippines – Before fighters like Eduard “Landslide” Folayang and Rene “The Challenger” Catalan broke into ONE Championship, wushu was foreign to most Filipinos.
So how did the Chinese-based martial art become the foundation for most of the Filipino ONE champions in mixed martial arts today?
“When we started here in the Cordilleras, kickboxing was the thing. Baguio became a goldmine in combat sports, then eventually, it opened up opportunities for us in wushu,” Folayang said.
“The Wushu Federation then started scouting here, and because we saw some athletes here winning in international competition, of course we decided to give it a try.”
Folayang and his good friend and future head coach Mark Sangiao then carried the banner of the highlands when it came to wushu.
Sangiao won the gold medal in the 2001 Southeast Asian Games while Folayang went on to win 3 times in the biennial regional meet. (READ: How wushu helped define Philippine martial arts)
But while the pair were busy making names for themselves in the sport, a man from the Panay Island soon embossed his name in the art – Catalan.
Catalan wanted to follow in the footsteps of his longtime idol, 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics silver medalist Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco.
Realizing that it was going to be harder to crack the national boxing team, Catalan instead turned to wushu.
“At first, I dreamed of making the national team in boxing because of Onyok Velasco, but I have to admit I wasn’t that good in boxing,” Catalan said.
“I tried Muay Thai, but at that time, there wasn’t any allowance in Muay Thai for the Philippines. So I tried my hand in wushu where I competed in the Wushu National Games. I won the gold medal and they got me in the national team.”
Catalan went on to win the 2006 Asian Games gold medal in wushu and world titles in the Wushu World Championship, making him one of the most accomplished practitioners of the art in the Philippines. (READ: Top 5 ONE Championship wushu athletes)
As Sangiao and Folayang formed the Team Lakay that we know of today, “The Challenger” created the Catalan Fighting System and led his team to The Home Of Martial Arts en route to mainstream consciousness.
Folayang credits most of his success to his wushu background, which gave him the solid base he needed to transition to mixed martial arts.
“The advantage of someone coming from a wushu background to mixed martial arts is the takedown aspect of it. I think it made the transition easier because in MMA, getting and defending takedowns is a very big part of it,” Folayang said.
“No matter how good you are in striking, if the match hits the ground, you’re already at a disadvantage. That’s the good thing about wushu, you can wrestle, and you can defend as well.”
“Now you just have to add jiu-jitsu so you can be complete in the sport. The adjustment is certainly easier when you come from wushu.”
Catalan echoed the same sentiments.
“Wushu is where I really focused. Back then, I was always getting beat up, it was really hard training under our coach Yu Shi Bu,” he said.
“I worked hard every single day and I endured for my family. I was rewarded eventually. Through wushu, I was given a chance to fulfill my dream of representing the country in sports, like Onyok Velasco.” – Rappler.com
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