Eduard Folayang is a hero in the Philippines and the most popular mixed martial artist the country has ever produced. He is humble, religious and has no interest in trash talking, but his fights tend to be all-action affairs that end with the former schoolteacher bloody and battered, but, more often than not, victorious.
Fighting out of Team Lakay and hailing from the hills of Baguio, Folayang has always embodied the warrior spirit associated with mountain folk. He trains under legendary coach Mark Sangiao, alongside fellow URCC champions Honorio Banario, Dave Galera, Kevin Belingon, and Rey Docyogen, and has played a pivotal role in establishing that camp as one of the best in the region.
Earlier this year, however, Folayang made the difficult decision to leave Baguio behind, step outside his comfort zone, and travel 7,000 miles to train in Las Vegas. It was a trip he felt was essential after suffering a defeat in the Philippines, which was as devastating as it was unexpected.
He took on Lowen Tynanes in the main event at URCC 22 last December in front of the fans in Manila who had come expecting nothing less than a Folayang victory. Those hopes were emphatically dashed when the Hawaiian wrestling standout scored a quick takedown and sliced open the Filipino fighter’s face with a vicious elbow, causing the doctor to call an immediate halt to the contest.
Before the loss Folayang was on the verge of a title shot with Asia’s biggest MMA organization, One FC, but with one swipe of an elbow Tynanes effectively leapfrogged the Filipino in the 155-pound queue. It is the kind of setback that could have been career ending, but the Baguio-based fighter resolved to go away, make himself a better mixed martial artist, and ensure he would never have to experience the bitter taste of defeat again.
“After losing to Tynanes, I went to the U.S. to train my ground game and to see the world of MMA in a wider view,” he said. “I trained in Drysdale Jiu-Jitsu in Las Vegas with Professor Robert Drysdale and I worked with Dan Hardy and some other MMA fighters.”
His record currently stands at 11-3 and the results that he and his Team Lakay fighters have registered fighting for leading local promotion URCC – where Folayang is the welterweight champion – speak for themselves. The 28-year-old has always been ahead of the curve in his homeland and hopes travelling elsewhere to train will help him replicate this success on the international stage.
“One FC is the biggest in Asia and one of the biggest in the world and so now there are big opportunities for Pinoys to bring glory to the country,” he stated. “I must focus to improve in all areas of the sport and if training outside the Philippines will be one of the ways to do so then I am willing to travel to train with the best.”
The UFC has had its eye on an expansion into the Philippines for a long time, but doesn’t seem to be making too much progress in terms of putting on a live event. That leaves One FC as the frontrunner, and they’ve taken full advantage of being first to the market. Folayang’s next fight will be taking place at the 20,000-seat capacity SM Mall of Asia in Manila and broadcast live all over Asia by Star Sports.
He is taking on WEC and UFC veteran Kamal Shalorus in a lightweight bout that may not be the main event at One FC: Rise to Power on May 31, but for the Filipino fans in attendance – many of whom have followed Folayang’s career since the early days – it might just be the main attraction.
This puts a lot of pressure on his shoulders and Folayang is well aware of the weight of responsibility. He believes, though, that the support of the hometown fans will be a factor in his favor when he takes on Shalorus.
“I feel great fighting again in my hometown. There will be a lot of pressures, but I’m happy knowing that my family, friends and countrymen will be there to support me,” he said.
It is by exploiting the popularity of Asian fighters like Folayang – who has always had a large local fanbase, but was not so well known internationally – that One FC has been able to gain a stranglehold in places like the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia, and establish itself as a major player on the global MMA landscape.
Shinya Aoki is currently the man to beat in the One FC lightweight division and the challenge for Folayang is to remain competitive on a roster that is rapidly improving. He has never before succumbed to back-to-back defeats and the match-up with Shalorus could potentially be career defining. A win would put him back in the 155-pound mix, but a loss would leave his title dreams in tatters.
Shalorus was released from the UFC following a three-fight losing skid, but the Iranian holds a draw with Jamie Varner and wins over Bart Palaszewski and Dave Jansen from his WEC days. With a 7-3-1 record, his career also stands at a crossroads. He will want to stake his own claim as a potential future opponent for Aoki by registering a win against an established One FC star.
With Shalorus coming from a strong wrestling background, Folayang has an opportunity to silence the critics who questioned his takedown defense in the aftermath of the defeat to Tynanes. He says he has been preparing meticulously to ensure there will be no repeat of the mistakes made that night.
“Kamal Shalorus is a decorated wrestler and a brawler in the cage who has fought in some big leagues and has some good experience in fighting,” said Folayang. “I’m preparing my wrestling defense and offense and I am preparing well in every aspect of my physical, mental and spiritual condition for this fight.”
Folayang’s status as a One FC star has thrust him into the spotlight, particularly in the Philippines, where his old fights are shown in regular rotation by several TV networks. The prospect of fighting in front of a full house in Manila must be intimidating, but he is hoping that the people who have followed his career up until this point turn out in force on May 31.
“Thank you very much for believing and supporting me and my teammates in this endeavor. We will try our very best in every fight and I hope every Filipino MMA fan will come and watch me and my countrymen at One FC: Rise to Power.”
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