To many Filipino fight fans, newly-crowned ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang serves as a beacon of hope – a real-life hero and a living example that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything.
However, before he became the national icon he is today, Folayang drew inspiration from his very own sports heroes.
Born and raised in Baguio City, Philippines, the now 33-year-old Folayang looks back fondly on his teenage years where he wished he could play basketball like Michael Jordan, run like the legendary Elma Muros, and throw punches like Olympic silver medalist boxer Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco.
Just like he inspires many Filipinos today, Folayang says back then, it was these sports figures in particular who gave him hope, and helped build his dreams.
“Life in Baguio City is very simple. I kind of like it that way, the slow-paced tranquility of nature. When I was younger, my friends and I would play a lot of contact games. I would pretend I was ‘Onyok’ (Velasco) and that’s really what drew me to combat sports,” said Folayang.
“Growing up, it’s important to have your role models, to have those figures you look up to. Without Michael Jordan, I wouldn’t know the true meaning of hard work and dedication to my craft. Without Elma Muros, I wouldn’t understand the gift of god-given talent. Without Onyok Velasco, I wouldn’t have ever dreamed of representing my country on the international scene. My sports heroes played a big role in my life.”
Today, Folayang himself finds himself in the same position as his own sports heroes, serving as an inspiration to Filipino youths just like he was back then, growing up in Baguio City and all across the country. It’s a privilege he says comes with his newfound status.
Folayang’s victory last November resounded all across the globe. Not only had he realized a lifelong dream of becoming a World Champion in mixed martial arts, but he had also dethroned a legend in Shinya Aoki, arguably the greatest MMA fighter to ever come out of Asia. The accomplishment would magnify in the weeks and months following the fight.
Though he didn’t know it at the time, Folayang’s performance helped to inspire many. After understanding the impact his title-winning performance had on fans who were able to witness his rise to the top, Folayang says he now cherishes his duty as a role model.
Just like his real life heroes, Folayang is happy to serve as a reminder to everyone that dreams do come true.
“Elma (Muros) and Onyok (Velasco) taught me to be proud of my country, and gave me the drive to represent the Philippines. It’s what pushed me to strive for success in wushu. They inspired me to one day be like them, representing the Philippines on the international arena. Michael Jordan taught me leadership and the importance of execution,” said Folayang.
“Today, even as ONE Lightweight World Champion, the highest honor bestowed upon me in the world of mixed martial arts, my heroes continue to inspire me. I have a long way to go to achieve all that I want to do in life, and their influence and reach still very much impacts my life and the way I perform.”
Folayang says there are fans who have reached out to him personally, detailing how his victory, and every time he steps into the ONE Championship cage, inspires them to overcome their own challenges, and conquer their own battles.
Going into his April 21 bout in Manila against Malaysia’s Ev Ting in his first title defense, Folayang once again is put in the position to give yet another awesome performance. Will he inspire yet again?
“It’s something that’s constantly on my mind whenever I step inside the cage,” said Folayang. “I don’t just fight for myself. I fight for everyone who believes in me.”
No matter what the obstacle, Folayang says it can be hurdled. The most important lesson he learned from his sports heroes, is something that he will carry all throughout his life.
“Do not let your situation or predicament control your life. There’s a solution to everything, you just have to find it. You just have to dig deep and show the world that you can overcome any obstacle. You can’t give up if you have a dream. You have to chase that dream until it becomes reality. Anything is possible when you put your heart into it,” Folayang concluded.