Reigning ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang is no stranger to the myriad of challenges a fighter faces in pursuit of a world title.
He was, after all, one of the biggest underdogs in all of combat sports just months ago. Now a World Champion, Folayang finally understands that keeping the belt around his waist is a much more difficult task than he had ever imagined.
The 33-year-old “Landslide” defeated Japanese MMA legend Shinya Aoki by technical knockout last November, in his finest performance to date to win ONE’s lightweight strap. He followed up that effort last April with a unanimous decision over Malaysia’s Ev Ting for his first title defense. In preparation for Ting, Folayang reveals he learned much about the various nuances of being a titleholder.
“It certainly feels great being champion, no doubt. I have learned so many things in such a short span of time, and I continue to learn,” said Folayang. “But it’s a lot harder than I first thought it would be. Preparations are a lot more difficult because as champion, you have so many more obligations.”
Although Folayang was successful against Ting, the victory didn’t come easily. Ting gave a great account of himself for five grueling stanzas, and Folayang was forced to dig deep in the championship rounds to earn the win on the judges’ scorecards.
“When you’re up and coming, working hard for a title opportunity, you’re hungry and motivated,” explains the Filipino national hero. “It’s easy to stay focused because you crave something that you don’t have. As champion, it’s different. You already have what you worked hard for, and so now you have to battle complacency. That’s just the way it is.”
The most important part of defending the title, Folayang stresses, is the balance a fighter needs to find to remain focused during training.
“You can’t be complacent and think it’s going to be easy, because someone out there somewhere could be working harder than you right now, and is just waiting for the chance to take what’s yours,” said Folayang. “So you have to work two times as hard as you did before to make sure you don’t lose the belt. When you’re champion, every fight is a big fight. Every opponent is a top contender.”
On 26 May, reigning ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee takes on Brazil’s Istela Nunes, while ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren goes head-to-head with Malaysia’s Agilan Thani. Folayang, having been on both sides of an enormous title bout, now knows what’s going through the fighters’ heads.
“Lee versus Nunes is a great matchup, especially with how Angela defended the belt in her last fight. She showed a lot of improvement with her striking, and going up against Istela who is a Muay Thai fighter, I think it will be a great fight,” said Folayang.
“As for Ben and Agilan, you already know this fight is going to the ground. Both guys are awesome wrestlers, but I think Ben has the advantage with his experience, and his ability to force guys to quit both physically and mentally once they’re in his world.”
Despite knowing exactly what it’s going to take for champions to retain their titles, Folayang can’t help but smile when he recalls his time as challenger. After all, everyone loves a good underdog story, he says.
“Don’t count any of these guys out. Istela has those lethal strikes and most of Agilan’s finishes took place on the mat. Anything can happen. That’s why we fight the fights. I hope we get some exciting results.”