FOR years, Eduard ‘Landslide’ Folayang had been the local favorite to go the distance in the sport of MMA. He seemed destined to achieve great things at the international level and show the world just how formidable a Filipino fighter can be.
The pressure to make it big was placed on Folayang’s shoulders early on in his career, and he’s carried that weight ever since.
Folayang, a former SEA Games gold medalist in wushu, burst onto the local MMA scene to win the URCC welterweight strap, a title he’d defend three times between 2007 and 2012. He was a dominant champion and an imposing physical presence. And despite the many talented fighters from his Team Lakay camp and from the burgeoning URCC roster, the consensus was that, if anyone would make it big on an international scale, it would be him.
However, much like the steep, winding roads he runs in Baguio City, Folayang’s career has had its fair share of twists, turns, and uphill battles.
The trials of a contender
Folayang entered Asian MMA promotion ONE Championship in 2011, poised to bring the highest of honors to Philippine MMA fighters. However, his path toward fulfilling that destiny was paved by one setback after the next.
Early on in ONE, he lost to Fil-Dane Ole Laursen via split decision. Then just as he was getting back into the winner’s circle, he suffered consecutive losses to wrestling aces Lowen Tynanes and Kamal Shalorus.
In true Folayang fashion, he bounced back from defeat, winning consecutive bouts. He was on track to vie for the title, but then Russian striker Timofy Nastyukhin sent his title hopes out the window with a first-round knockout via flying knee (followed by soccer kicks to the head) in 2014.
It seemed then like the young Russian was brutally ushering the 30-year-old Pinoy out of title contention, and even out of the MMA scene as he took a year-long hiatus.
But after a contract renegotiation and another pair of wins, Folayang was in the right place at the right time and was granted a title shot against ONE lightweight champ Shinya Aoki.
Becoming a champion
As excited as fans were about Folayang challenging Aoki for the belt, they knew that this was an insanely tough test for the Baguio native.
Aoki had won titles in DREAM, Shooto, and ONE, and was undefeated in nine fights in over four years. He was a BJJ and Judo black belter with a technical and devastating ground game that has yielded 25 submission wins. Basically, he appeared to be a nightmare matchup for the Filipino.
Nevertheless, with the cards stacked up against him, Folayang pulled off the upset, fending off Aoki’s submission attempts for two rounds to finish the Japanese fighter via TKO in the third.
Finally, the man touted to be the face of Filipino MMA and the fighter expected to carry Pinoy MMA to the highest pedestal had fulfilled his destiny. He became the ONE lightweight champion.
A testament to Pinoy perseverance
Folayang’s road to gold was immensely turbulent. However, ‘Landslide’ kept his faith, stayed humble, and soldiered on. Learning from his defeats, he continued to work on his weaknesses, training with renowned grapplers like Mark Munoz and Robert Drysdale in the US, Iranian wrestling coach Ali Heydarabadi in Baguio, and Judo and BJJ black belter John Baylon in Manila.
He never allowed losses, as devastating as they may be, get in the way of his dreams, of his destiny. He’s been unrelenting even in the face of adversity, and it’s only fitting that he wears the championship belt today.
Gab Pangalangan is the founder and president of DojoDrifter.com, the Philippines' ultimate source of the latest MMA news, trends, training updates, and insights. He’s also a judo and jiu-jitsu champion.