A career with more ups and downs than the roads leading to his hometown of Baguio City finally reached its pinnacle when Eduard Folayang pulled off one of the biggest upsets in ONE history. Truly a man of indomitable spirit
EDUARD Folayang is far from the typical homegrown Filipino mixed martial artist — the usually shy, countryside guy who lets his fists, elbows, and knees do most of talking inside the cage.
The Baguio native stands out as one of the most eloquent fighters in the country, fluent in Tagalog, but also never hesitant and always comfortable speaking in English in front of foreign reporters, let alone local media.
Those who know him well aren't surprised as Folayang was once a high school English teacher in the Mountain Province after being armed with an education degree from the University of the Cordilleras. He had even started taking up his master’s degree on the same course, although he has taken a break.
And once he expresses his thoughts, one could readily tell that he’s a deeply religious man.
One instance was right after pulling off one of the biggest upsets in ONE Championship by stunning Shinya Aoki in the main event of “Defending Honor” last November, when Folayang immediately thanked the “master of masters, the Lord of lords, Jesus Christ” for his victory.
The reigning ONE lightweight champion only points to one direction in attributing the culmination of his journey to the top of the Asian MMA scene.
“Palagi kong sinasabi yung nakalagay sa Ecclesiastes,” Folayang began talking after ONE: Age of Domination last December at the MOA Arena where he was at the corner of his Team Lakay stablemates who saw action three weeks after his title conquest.
“‘There is a time and season for every activity under heaven,’ so alam ko na ito yung time talaga na mabigyan tayo ng para sa atin,” he added, quoting the Old Testament book’s verse three, chapter one.
Indeed, the time has come for Folayang. His crowning moment finally came after a roller-coaster ride since he stepped onto the Asian stage for the continent’s top MMA outfit, long after earning the reputation as the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the country by ruling his division in the Universal Reality Combat Championship.
But Folayang’s path to the top was as long and winding as a trip to the country's summer capital.
After winning his first fight in ONE in 2011, Folayang lost two of his next three bouts in the promotion, before winning his next two to get back in title contention.
Known for his striking and wushu, being a 2006 Asian Games silver medalist and three-time SEA Games gold medalist, the 5-foot-9 fighter worked on his ground game to get to where he was; he paid for his own trip to the US in the middle of 2013 for a two-month training camp with top grapplers including compatriot and retired former Ultimate Fighting Championship contender Mark Muñoz.
He also learned from a former Olympic wrestling coach in Iranian Ali Heydarabadi, hired by Lakay coach Mark Sangiao to train his fighters.
But just when he was poised for a title shot, Folayang crashed back to earth following a devastating loss in “Warrior’s Way” to Timofey Nastyukhin, who knocked him out with a flying knee and soccer kicks in front of a stunned Filipino crowd at MOA last December 2014.
Fortunately, Folayang managed to sign a new contract, giving him renewed hope. And it was overseas where he took and completed his road to redemption. The man known as ‘Landslide’ won in Kuala Lumpur against Tetsuya Yamada last January, before prevailing in Macau against Adrian Pang last August in a pair of unanimous-decision wins.
And in Singapore on that fateful night last November 11, Folayang shocked the Asian MMA world by toppling a Japanese legend in Aoki, who had been unbeaten in nine fights spanning four years.
A heavy underdog against a superior grappler who’s considered one of the greatest Asian MMA fighters of all time, Folayang shrugged off Aoki’s numerous submission attempts, then turned to what he does best – striking, as he connected on a fight-defining knee, before finishing him off with a relentless ground-and-pound attack.
All it took was one title shot to get the belt, a birthday gift that came 11 days before he turned 32.
“Within that five years na ups and down, alam ko na marami sa inyo ang naka-witness kung paano yung struggle ko for this title shot, and finally,” beamed Folayang, who’s now counting his blessings as he and wife Genevieve are expecting their first child in the middle of March.
Whether his baby girl follows in his footsteps and becomes a champion remains to be seen. But Folayang has already inspired fellow aspiring Pinoy fighters, including his stablemates who were mostly successful in Age of Domination.
“I’m so happy na yun yung nagiging effect sa mga kasamahan ko,” Folayang said. “Actually, yun naman yung aim natin: hindi lang sila yung mai-inspire, kundi mas marami pang kabataan, mas marami pang fighters ang mapunta sa mataas na level ng competition kung saan ipapamalas nila yung kanilang kagalingan.”
Having that transcendental impact makes him deserving to be basically our Fighter of the Year for 2016.