Eduard “Landslide” Folayang is the NEW ONE Championship World Champion!
Just a few months ago, Eduard Folayang was at the crossroads of his fighting career.
His previous contract with ONE Championship ended last March, while the UFC announced its second Manila event as early as June. If Folayang wanted to test himself inside the Octagon, that was his opportunity.
But, as luck – or fate – would have it, the UFC never called, and in July, Folayang signed a new two-year deal with Asia’s largest MMA promotion. By August, Folayang fought and won a title eliminator against Adrian Pang. Soon after, the title fight between him and Shinya Aoki – unbeaten since 2012 – was announced.
To many, even to us Filipinos, defeating Shinya Aoki was a tall order, a gargantuan task for Folayang and Baguio-based Team Lakay. After all, the last person to defeat the Japanese grappling genius is currently sitting atop the UFC’s lightweight division and set to fight Conor McGregor this Sunday. Unfazed, Folayang, Coach Mark Sangiao, and the rest of his team prepared hard and well for what Aoki and Evolve MMA had in store for them.
All the hard work, all the preparation, led to tonight’s masterful performance.
In the first round, Aoki immediately closed the distance, cornering Folayang for a clinch. The difference maker was Aoki’s judo. Once on his back, Folayang had no other choice but to defend Aoki’s vicious submission attempts. But here’s the thing: “The Landslide” was able to defend. He was successful in defending the submission master’s attempts! Something all of Tobikan Judan’s opponents have failed to do in the past! As the bell rang, the viewing Filipino collective was able to let out a sigh of relief as our homegrown hero survived to fight another round.
While ONE advertised tonight’s fight as a battle of Aoki’s submissions vs. Folayang’s spinning strikes, The Landslide’s striking was purposive, calculated, and very much on point. Quick punches and kicks, to the body or the legs, minimal spinning sh*t. The first spinning kick he threw, he followed up with a spinning back fist in case Aoki pursued him while he was facing away.
It was a lesson from 2013, when Kamal Shalorus took advantage of Folayang’s habit of throwing spinning strikes, ducking and taking him down whenever the Lakay spun and exposed his back. Tonight, Aoki’s reaction was different. The Japanese moved back once Folayang initiated his wheel kick, and the spinning back fist reinforced Aoki’s decision to move out of the way whenever Folayang would start to spin. Still, “The Landslide” used this part of his arsenal conservatively.
Folayang’s decision to counter with a knee whenever Aoki rushed forward was reminiscent of Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon’s strategy against another Japanese grappling stalwart in Masakatsu Ueda. Instead of engaging in a grueling clinch battle, Folayang opted to throw a flying knee when it seemed that Aoki was going for a takedown. It connected in the first round. And while a miscalculated attempt cost him to end up on the ground in the second frame, Folayang kept an open guard and pushed his foe away as soon as the opportunity to get back on his feet was presented.
Then in the third round, Folayang’s counter flying knee rocked Aoki. With the Japanese down and trapped against the fence, Folayang started driving deliberate right hands towards his foe’s face. Referee Yuji Shimada gave Aoki every opportunity to recover, but Aoki curled up to simply minimize the damage, prompting the referee to stop the bout, ending Aoki’s reign, and crowning “The Landslide” as ONE Championship’s new world lightweight champion.
With a roller coaster 4-3 record prior to re-signing with ONE, who would have thought that two fights later Eduard Folayang would be the promotion’s newest champion? Maybe, deep inside all of us, we believed. That’s why we tuned in. Despite the odds.
John Hudson Go is the Editor-in-Chief of MMA Philippines.
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