MMA: Underdog Folayang lands big strike on champ Aoki

Eduard Folayang.
Eduard Folayang.

Folayang comes full circle, shocking Aoki at place he started off to be third Filipino winner

Eduard Folayang is a SEA Games champion and an Asian Games silver medallist in wushu.

But by winning the One Championship lightweight title in the Singapore-based promotion's Defending Honour event on Friday night, the Filipino mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter sent his countrymen into a frenzy.

Folayang, who represents Team Lakay, one of the Philippines' top MMA outfits, said: "This belt means much more to me than the medals I've won before. This win was not just for my country, but also for my team."

The Philippines is well known for producing one of boxing's all-time greats Manny Pacquiao, but in recent years, MMA has gathered steam and Folayang has been carrying the torch for the sport in his homeland.

The 31-year-old Baguio native became the third Filipino title holder in the history of One Championship when he dethroned Shinya Aoki of Japan with a technical knock-out in the main event on Friday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

It meant he came full circle in Kallang, having made his debut at the same venue when One staged its inaugural event in 2011.

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This belt means much more to me than the medals I've won before. This win was not just for my country, but also for my team.

EDUARD FOLAYANG, dedicating his stunning One Championship lightweight victory over Shinya Aoki to Team Lakay.

Folayang said: "It feels great seeing the result after all the hardships that I've been through."

He had entered the event as the underdog as he was appearing in his first title fight, while Aoki boasted a 39-6 record, had been unbeaten in four years and had successfully defended his title twice.

But the challenger had never tapped out in his career and he escaped the Japanese fighter's well-known takedowns and submission advances.

Folayang then stunned Aoki and the capacity crowd of 12,000 as he landed a knee and finished his conquest with a ground-and-pound, prompting referee Yuji Shimada to call for the bell 43 seconds into the third round.

Folayang said: "We know Shinya is a good grappler, and he is able to find a submission from every angle. I knew that he was trying for a submission, but I just maintained my calmness and did not panic.

"I looked for Shinya's weakness and I always rely on my striking.

"I was able to land in a good knee, perhaps I hurt him in his stomach, and then I just got on the ground.

"At that moment, when I saw blood, it made me more aggressive to finish the fight, and I knew that he was already finished."

As Folayang savours the biggest success of his career, he knows that the next challenge for him is to see how long he can hold on to the belt.

He said: "Now, it's a freedom for me. But it's another responsibility to hold on to the title."

Aoki, 33, declined to speak to the media after the bout.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 13, 2016, with the headline 'Underdog lands big strike on champ'. Print Edition | Subscribe