When you’ve overcome the kind of adversity in life that former ONE lightweight champion Eduard Folayang has, you can understand how bouncing back from a two-fight losing streak isn’t quite so daunting a prospect.
Raised in the mountains outside the Philippines’ Baguio City amid the most abject poverty, Folayang was born into a family of nine children. He was one of only who four survived past the age of past 18 months, as measles claimed the lives of five of his siblings.
“My childhood was very tough,” Folayang recalled. “But the good thing about when you’re a kid is you’re not thinking a lot about the bad things that are going on. It’s all you know.”
His illiterate parents scraped and scrounged to ensure that, while they lacked so much materially, there was always food on the table and an abundance of love and encouragement.
As unimaginable as they may sound, those experiences laid the foundation for Folayang’s lifetime of martial arts success, providing a mental fortitude that would set him apart from his peers.
“You know that you may not have some things that others have, but it pushes you to use your brain and hands to be able to get the things that you want out of life.”
Inspired by Bruce Lee and Jean Claude Van Damme kung-fu flicks, Folayang began practicing wushu, an ancient Chinese art that mixes striking with some grappling techniques. He quickly earned national honours, and went on to represent the Philippines at the highest level for almost 11 years.
His senior on that team, Mark Sangiao, had successfully made the transition to MMA, and the move piqued Folayang’s interest enough to follow suit.
Nine years later, Sangaio is now Folayang’s head coach at the Team Lakay gym in Baguio City, which has become a breeding ground for the country’s elite fighters. He now has a total of four ONE Championship world title holders on his roster, with ‘younger brother’ Folayang at the forefront of the gym’s success.
“His mental toughness is incredible,” Sangaio said. “He’s inspired his teammates to become champions because he’s proved that it’s possible that – even if you do come from the mountains – you can rise to the top.
“At home he’s a big star, a hero. He inspires a lot of our youth.”
Folayang’s exploits as a two-time ONE champion saw him named the Philippines’ Athlete of the Year – the first time in 10 years the award wasn’t won by boxing great and national deity, Manny Pacquiao.
On Friday ‘The Landslide’ will look to get back into the winner’s circle and on the path to becoming a three-time king when he takes on Amarsanaa Tsogookhuu in the co-main event of ONE: ‘Masters of Fate’ in his own backyard in Manila on November 8.
The Mongolian newcomer is somewhat of an unknown commodity in his adopted new promotion. He cut his teeth fighting on Deep events in Japan and regional competitions in his homeland, where he used his karate base to impressive effect.
But his debut win against Shannon Wiratchai in February made plenty sit up and take notice, and Folayang will need to have his wits about him to avoid a potential banana skin in a bout he’s highly favoured to win.
The Filipino has well and truly had his mettle tested in 2019, falling to demoralizing defeats in his two bouts to date this year. Both came via first-round submission, albeit against a pair of elite lightweights in Japanese grappling genius Shinya Aoki and ex-UFC champion Eddie Alvarez.
As eager as he is to watch his hand raised again, a fighter of Folayang’s experience knows better than to underrate any opponent.
“I am definitely not underestimating Amarsanaa,” said Folayang. “I just believe that my preparations will allow me to dominate him.”
Further to the faith and confidence that those clinical preparations allow under the tutelage of Sangiao, he’ll also have all of the comforts that come with fighting at home. That includes what is certain to be another raucous crowd inside the Mall of Asia Arena,
“I have my team, my friends, my fans, and the rest of the Philippines cheering and depending on me. I’m not going to let them down.”