Eduard Folayang's Incredible Rise From Poverty To Power

October 20, 2017

Eduard “Landslide” Folayang has yearned for the ONE Lightweight World Championship ever since he headlined the organization’s first-ever event, ONE: CHAMPION VS CHAMPION, six years ago.

It is an obsession that took a physical and emotional toll on him. But on 11 November 2016, he finally got his shot at reigning champ Shinya Aoki’s belt at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR in the Singapore Indoor Stadium. It is an opportunity he seized with both hands.

“My journey in ONE Championship ever since my first bout has been a roller coaster,” said Folayang. “There were moments in my career when I was already near to a title shot, but suddenly I lost momentum. And then I climbed the ladder again and fell again.

“This time I really pushed hard to be on the top, and finally after five years, I had the chance to compete for the title.”

Folayang made history that night, accomplishing what many thought was impossible for him by scoring a technical knockout of Aoki in the third round. It was a fairy tale ending to a story that began with Folayang growing up through poverty, fighting to pay the bills, and claiming a world championship. 

“It feels good after a long journey,” he proudly proclaimed after his win. “It is just like what I said, this is my time, and I proved it.”

However, claiming the belt goes much deeper than simply adding a world title to his many accolades. For the man known as “Landslide,” it is the culmination of his life’s work, and a tribute to the people, community, and society that raised him.

Fighting To Escape Poverty

Growing up in Baguio City, Philippines, Folayang’s family was tragically impoverished. The Filipino was one of nine children, five of whom passed away due to sickness, simply because they did not have access to proper medical care.

His father worked as a laborer and part-time farmer, his mother worked at a laundromat, and both of his parents never learned to read or write. It is something they made sure didn’t happen to their children.

“My parents sacrificed a lot to bring us to school. Sometimes, they even borrowed money just for us to pay our tuition fees,” recalled Folayang, sadly. “In their daily lives they didn’t focus on just one job, they found extra work that they could do so that it would compensate for the needs that we had.”

Though his parents had hoped he would become a police officer following his education, Folayang had other plans. He picked up wushu, and took up a scholarship in college to help pay his way through school and lessen the burden on his parents. It would prove to be a decision that would change his life forever.

After proving talented enough to join the Philippine Wushu Team, Folayang won eleven major medals, including three golds at the Southeast Asian Games. Plus, while still actively participating in the discipline, he adapted his skills for the cage in 2007. Inspired to work as hard as his parents were, he did so all while teaching English and Physical Education in high school after graduating from the University of the Cordilleras.

As the most prominent member of Team Lakay, “Landslide” made his professional debut for a Filipino promotion in June 2007, taking on its then-undefeated welterweight champion. He knocked out the champ in the first round, and took home the belt. Just like that, martial arts would become the means for him to inspire others with his abilities.

“The reason I compete is because I have the passion for it, and because I know God has given me the ability to influence my countrymen,” said Folayang. “There are a lot of problems in the Philippines. We’ve seen the effect of drugs on the Filipino people.”

Becoming A World Champion And Filipino Hero

Folayang racked up eight more wins and one loss before signing with ONE in 2011, where he participated in the main event of the organization’s inaugural show, ONE: CHAMPION VS CHAMPION, and defeated A-Sol Kwon via unanimous decision.

Although “Landslide” experienced some mixed results in the years to follow, including a heartbreaking knockout loss to Timofey Nastyukhin in 2014 that even made him ponder retirement, he was determined to turn his luck around and come back stronger.

“I took some time off, gathered my thoughts, and reevaluated my career,” he explained. “I knew I had to go on, as a martial artist. I knew I had to persevere. I knew the best of me was still deep inside somewhere.”

For much of 2015, Folayang made regular trips to the United States in an effort to polish his skills. He visited many gyms to improve both his striking and wrestling, and the results showed almost instantly.

The Filipino returned to ONE in 2016, and had the best year of his career. He dominated Japanese debutant Tetsuya Yamada via decision in January, followed that up with a thrilling win over Australia’s Adrian Pang later that August, and then defeated Aoki to capture the ONE Lightweight World Championship in November.

Immediately after defeating the living legend and realizing a lifelong goal of becoming a world champion, Folayang was instantly put in a position he did not quite expect, but embraced nonetheless.

“Being champion has given me the opportunity to touch the lives of so many. Even by just giving the fans a single evening, just one performance that can prove to them that anything is possible if you really want it means the world to me,” said Folayang.

“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.”

Keeping the title, not for glory, but for the ability to provide his people with hope and faith in limitless possibilities is the 33-year-old’s continued mission. He stands now, the best of ONE’s stacked lightweight division, at the top of a food chain teeming with hungry sharks.

Last April at ONE: KINGS OF DESTINY, Folayang successfully defended his title for the first time in a unanimous decision victory over Malaysia’s Ev Ting.

“That match helped me to realize that every bout from here on will become increasingly difficult. Ting was no easy opponent. When you are the champion, everyone wants to take the belt from you, everyone comes in with their A-game,” he said.

“I am working even harder now to keep this title because I know how much it means to the people who believe in me.”

A World Champion Showdown

On Friday, 10 November, at the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Folayang steps back into the cage to stand his ground and defend Filipino pride at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD. Coming for his golden strap is ONE Featherweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen. It is the first world champion versus world champion super-bout in the promotion’s history.

“Facing a guy like Martin, it is not going to be easy. He is a world champion, he has tremendous all-around skills, and he is incredibly intelligent. The challenge is so intense, so coming in with the right game plan is key,” explained Folayang.

“Winning this bout is my top priority, to keep this belt on my shoulder. It is going to be tough, but I have my people to support me. I want to make everyone proud. I want to show the fans that Filipino athletes are world-class.”

Manila | 10 November | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | PPV: Official Livestream at oneppv.com | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onelegends17

Images: Dux Carvajal