Eduard Folayang knows a thing or two about ONE Championship history. He headlined the first ever fight card back in 2011 and has been involved since the promotion’s inception.

So it is fitting that the Filipino’s title defence against Shinya Aoki should have main event status at ONE: ‘A New Era’. It is the inaugural card in Tokyo and Folayang believes it will be the biggest in the promotion’s eight year history,

“I am happy to be part of the first event in Japan, especially because of how big this is going to be. Just looking at the card, it’s undeniable that this is the biggest event of the promotion yet,” he said.

Folayang has faced Aoki before. It was a massive upset when the Team Lakay star stopped the seasoned Japanese veteran in the third round, and since then much has changed.

Big change

Aoki has challenged, unsuccessfully, for the welterweight title while Folayang has lost and then regained the lightweight belt. The Filipino goes into Sunday’s main event as the defending champion and sees this as the biggest change since their first fight,

“The only difference right now is that I’m the one defending the title so as much as possible, my mind is set on preparing to the best of my abilities to guarantee a favorable result,” Folayang shared.

Aoki has won three fights in a row, with every stoppage coming inside the opening round. Folayang feels his opponent has rediscovered the form that made him such a dominant champion,

“He finished all his opponents in the first round, so that means he’s really determined and prepared to reclaim his belt,” he said.

No surprises

While Aoki’s results might have improved his style hasn’t really changed. Folayang knows exactly what to expect from the challenger and is determined to avoid suffering what would be the first submission loss of his career,

“I think he’s still the best at what he does, which is grappling, and that’s where I need to be more careful now more than ever,” Folayang said.

Aoki’s strengths and weaknesses are well established but Folayang feels he is evolving rapidly, despite being 35 years of age,

“I have improved quite a bit myself, especially with the simple details in technique for takedowns and the ground game. With striking, I am constantly perfecting my accuracy and timing, so I had that time to sharpen them further.”

Ups and downs

Folayang has experienced plenty of ups and downs during his career. No-one really gave him a chance going into the first fight with Aoki but he well and truly made the doubters eat their words that night.

While Aoki can get extremely emotional there has always been a quiet determination about Folayang. A church going family man, he feels this state of mind will give him the edge on Sunday,

“I think I have an advantage because of my mental and spiritual strength,” Folayang says.

These days Folayang is always the main event. He’s established himself as one of the biggest stars on the ONE Championship roster and features heavily in most of the promotional publicity.

Auspicious event

The Filipino is used to being handed big fights on large scale shows. But he’s never fought in Japan before, or seen names like Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez listed below him on a fight card.

So Sunday will be a little bit special and the reigning lightweight champion is honored to be handed headline status in what promises to be an auspicious event for Asian MMA,

“This rematch is three years in the making. It’s an honor to face Shinya again here in Japan.”