Eduard Folayang is the reigning ONE Championship lightweight champion. It’s a sentence few expected to read or type as Shinya Aoki dominated the division while the Filipino was beaten by the likes of Kamal Shalorus and Timofey Nastyukhin.
But Folayang turned his career around with three straight wins, culminating in the shock defeat of Aoki in Singapore last year. He will be defending that belt for the first time against Ev Ting at ONE: Kings of Destiny in Manila on Friday and can still clearly remember the moment it became his.
“I knew that (Aoki) was hurt in the last part of the second round, so I’m thinking he will try to use the remaining energy that he has to take me down. As the bell rings, he immediately came to take me down, so I used that momentum to hit him, to execute that knee on his head, and it works.”
Anyone with money on Folayang that night would have walked away with a very healthy profit. The Filipino came into the fight as a heavy underdog, though he was never lacking in belief.
“In my opinion, I think the majority of those in MMA world expect that I will lose the fight against Shinya Aoki. If you go to the past record or history you can see that Aoki is a legend, not only in Japan, but here in Asia he represent the Asian MMA. That’s how they see it. For me, I believe in myself. I believe even heroes fall, even legends fall.”
Folayang’s rise has been quite remarkable when you consider from where he started. He was born in Baguio, but grew up in such extreme poverty that survival could not be taken for granted.
“We are nine in the family and five of my siblings died. Despite all those things that happened to my parents, they still have Eduard Folayang, who is a world champion. It will not compensate for the loss, but it makes them very proud.”
Folayang went on to graduate from the University of the Cordilleras in Baguio and worked as a PE teacher before becoming a full-time mixed martial artist. He still lives and trains in his hometown and has strong opinions on the importance of education.
“Improving the community is very important for me. I’m not a politician, but as a citizen of this country (and) that’s one of those things that I see; even the old people here you can still see the ignorance within them because they are not yet properly informed and because they don’t have a good education. One of those keys to improve this nation is through education.”
The Eduard Folayang story could have been scripted by a screenwriter. A boy who never left his hometown, but went on to become a champion with plenty of ups and downs on the journey, it is the stuff that movies are made of, but the next part of the narrative is arguably the most crucial.
The 33-year-old is defending his belt in Manila. The MOA Arena will be packed with Filipino fans and they will be fervently behind Folayang, but defeat would be a disaster. It’s a fate he is determined to avoid.
“I’m confident because I believe that God didn’t put me this far just to strip me naked when I go there (to make his first defence in Manila). My confidence is always on my faith and the way I prepare.”
Folayang believes he will win, but is leaving nothing to chance in his preparation and has already familiarized himself with Friday night’s opponent.
“I think his greatest strength is his striking. He likes round-house kicks, he loves to switch stances. Some of (his) weaknesses are his wrestling defense, but he can also use that opportunity to submit his opponent. I think he has a good overall MMA style.”
Ting is looking to become Malaysia’s first ever MMA world champion and won’t be short of motivation himself. But the possibility of a humiliating defeat in his homeland is driving Folayang and he is determined to defend his belt for the first time in front of the fans in Manila.
“He has the hunger to get the belt. I am even hungrier to retain it. Tell him I have a lot of belts here in Baguio, one of them is my leather belt. I use it on my jeans, perhaps I can give him this, but not my golden strap.”
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