WITH Manny Pacquiao in the final stretch of an illustrious 22-year boxing career, another prizefighter looms as the next Filipino global sports icon although this successor fights in a different cage.
ONE Championship chairman Chatri Sityodtong sees Filipino mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Eduard Folayang as the perfect successor of the 38-year-old pugilist from General Santos City.
“My dream is to see a local star becoming a national star, and then he becomes a global superstar. I think that in Eduard Folayang, we have a big potential there,” he said.
“With Manny Pacquiao retiring, he is going to leave a big void in the Philippines because he is a sports hero. I believe Eduard Folayang has all the makings of becoming the next flag bearer of the Philippines on an international stage,” Sityodtong added.
According to Sityodtong, Pacquiao and Folayang have striking similarities as both men had tough beginnings with barely anything to start out with — from penniless homes to underprivileged surroundings.
In order to support their own families, Pacquiao and Folayang dabbled into sports, seeing it as their only escape from poverty and both conquered difficult odds to establish themselves among the best and the brightest athletes of their respective sports.
But despite their successes in their individual fields, Pacquiao and Folayang remained humble.
“Manny’s story inspires everybody. He evolved from a Manila street kid to a global superstar, but he remained so kind and humble. That’s what we saw in Eduard Folayang as well. Nothing has changed even if he is now a world champion. It’s just the same old Eduard as before,” Sityodtong said.
Last November, Folayang pulled off an upset victory over Japanese legend Shinya Aoki to become an MMA world champion after nearly 10 years of strutting his wares in the sport.
“In order to become a legend, you have to beat a legend. He did that despite being dominated by Shinya Aoki in the first round. Eduard Folayang showed what it’s like to conquer the odds,” Sityodtong said of Folayang’s stunning win over Aoki.
Sityodtong, who owns over 30 professional bouts as a Muay Thai practitioner, stressed that Folayang’s character exemplifies the true beauty of martial arts.
“I love him as a champion. He represents true martial arts values. He is humble and courageous. He is mentally strong. He has a warrior spirit. He’s always training and upgrading his skills. Today, he’s genuinely a well-rounded mixed martial artist,” he said.
“But most importantly as a human being, he really exemplifies everything that is wonderful about martial arts and Asia. He has the humility, kindness, strength, integrity, and courage. This is to me what Eduard Folayang is,” Sityodtong asserted.
Sityodtong is fully convinced that Folayang will be following the footsteps of Pacquiao as a worldwide sports icon.
“I really believe that he can become a global superstar in the same way that Manny Pacquiao is,” he quipped.
Folayang will be defending his ONE Lightweight World Championship belt for the first time against a yet-to-be-determined opponent in the main event of ONE Championship’s return to Manila, Philippines on April 21.
“Eduard Folayang is going to defend his world title in his home country for the first time. I want the entire country, if you’re a Filipino or have a Pinoy heart, you’ve got to watch this fight,” Sityodtong invited.