For Eduard Folayang the wait for a 23rd career win has been a long one. He has not tasted victory since 2019 and is on a three fight losing skid for the first time since he turned professional 14 years ago.

It is a dire situation for the Filipino but he believes that the long wait will simply serve to make the moment that he does return to winning ways even sweeter,

“Sometimes, the sweetest victory comes in the end for as long as you don’t give up. I believe that’s life. We’ve done it in the past, nobody thought I’d ever be a world champion, but I persevered.”

Sweetest victory

While some pundits have suggested Folayang should retire the thought sounds like it is a long way from his mind,

“There will be losses and wins, but for as long as you never give up and you keep a strong mind, that’s the key,” he said.

The 36 year old feels that the most important thing is that he still wants it,

“The moment I give up, the moment my mind breaks down, that’s the end of me. I have to be tough, no matter the struggles and the failures. For as long as I really want it, then it will be the sweetest victory.”

Must win

ONE: ‘Battleground’ Part II is being broadcast this Friday and it features Folayang’s fight with Zhang Lipeng. The Chinese fighter has won 21 out of his last 24 fights and the Filipino knows that his future career prospects could hang on this one result,

“We all know the magnitude of this match for my career. It hasn’t been a good stretch so far, so I really have to win this in order to keep floating and get that first win for me this year.”

He sees his opponent as a standup specialist which could make for an entertaining bout. But Folayang is wary of Zhang’s submission skills,

“Zhang is a striker. If he feels like he has an advantage on the ground, he’ll pursue it. I think that’s his main style. He adjusts well on the fly,” Folayang says.

Rising up

Last time out he was taken down by Shinya Aoki and submitted in the opening round at ONE on TNT Part IV. Folayang knows it is essential he doesn’t fall into a similar trap against the TUF China winner,

“I have to be prepared. I think he’ll try to get this match to the ground as much as possible. We’ve been preparing for that, so hopefully, the execution will be much better this time around.”

Interestingly he admits that the scrutiny over his recent form and suggestions that he should retire has affected him,

“Physically, we can push ourselves, but during those off times when you’re not training, there are a lot of thoughts that spring up, the what-ifs and things like that. Then you’ll hear all these naysayers and ‘experts,’ so you really have to be tough mentally.”

Folayang has has to remain focused in order to ensure the negativity does not affect his preparation,

“Mentally, of course, you have to shut down those voices. The moment you let that voice in, that’s the time you struggle. Right now, what I need is 100% focus. I have to be 100% committed in rising up again and winning once more,” he says.

Mental block

Folayang turns 37 later this year so it would be no surprise if he was starting to slow down. But the two time ONE Championship title holder says his recent struggles have been more on the mental side than the physical side,

“There are a lot of factors for me in this match, and I think most of it is mental. I have to overcome that,” he said.

He will always be remembered for winning the title twice, the first victory coming at the expense of the legendary Aoki and the second in front of the fans in Manila. Those are two memories to last a lifetime and Folayang correctly points out that whatever happens it won’t be a few losses towards the tail end of his career that he is best known for,

“I think the best thing I can do is to focus and set a positive mindset for myself, that whatever happens it won’t define me. Never give up, just keep floating, and get closer to where I really want to be.”

Important fight

However memories are not enough for Folayang at this stage. He wants to prove he can still compete with the top lightweights on the roster and knows that he needs to win this next fight in order to prove he can do that,

“The mentality is to win this one. This is a very important fight. This is one of those steps for me to be closer to my goal.”