MMA: Folayang stands tall in bid to inspire

Eduard Folayang.
Eduard Folayang.

Filipino fighter takes on Aoki with hopes of influencing compatriots to fulfil potential

The biggest fight of Eduard Folayang's career will take place this evening at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, more than 2,000km from his hometown of Baguio City, in the Philippines.

But his countrymen will not be far from the 31-year-old's mind as he steps into the ring against One Championship lightweight champion Shinya Aoki.

Ahead of the title bout, which will headline One Championship's Defending Honour fight night, Folayang said: "I know God has given me the ability to influence my countrymen in this sport. There are a lot of problems in the Philippines, especially in our new administration... We've seen the effects of drugs on the Filipino people.

"As an athlete, I want to inspire the youth to not waste their lives on doing drugs but to find the purpose of their existence; to find if they have the talent in sports or whatever areas they are talented in.

"I want them to be inspired."

The Philippines' drug problems are well-documented. A 2012 United Nations report said the country had the highest abuse rate for methamphetamine in East Asia.

FIGHTING TO WRITE A NEW STORY

Aoki is a legend in mixed martial arts and beating him will also make me a legend.

EDUARD FOLAYANG, the One Championship title challenger, on the chance to make a name for himself this evening, when he takes on lightweight champion Shinya Aoki of Japan.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal drug war, which has reportedly seen thousands killed and drawn criticism from human rights advocates, has also been in the news.

Folayang, an Asian Games silver medallist and SEA Games champion in wushu, said he wants to unite his people in these trying times, the same way eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao does with his feats in the boxing ring.

But he faces a tall order to add another victory to his 16-5 win-loss record.

In his way is Japan's Aoki, widely regarded as one of the best mixed martial arts professionals in the business.

Nicknamed "Tobikan Judan" or "The Grand Master of Flying Submissions", Aoki boasts a 39-6 record and a whole repertoire of submission moves in his arsenal.

On the other hand, Folayang, with his wushu background, is known more for his stand-up game and striking.

Aoki, 33, will likely close in and try to take the game to the ground before executing one of his submission moves.

The Japanese said: "There are a lot of submissions I want to use but a fight is not about showing off your skills, it's not a submission recital."

On his strategy, Folayang said: " I will try to strike more rather than be passive on the ground. When it goes to the ground, I really need to know how to defend myself.

"I believe if I can keep this fight upright I will win the fight."

Folayang's last five wins went all the way, hinting at an ability to endure punishment and not get drawn into clinches or traps.

But a lack of experience on the big stage might cost him, given this is his first title fight since making his One Championship debut in 2011.

Except defeat is far from his mind.

"Aoki is a legend in mixed martial arts and beating him will also make me a legend," said Folayang.

"I've worked my a** off for that belt. I believe that even legends fall. I believe this is my time."

Victory is uncertain. But an improbable win tonight will certainly lift spirits back home.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2016, with the headline 'Folayang stands tall in bid to inspire'. Print Edition | Subscribe