By Jerome Lagunzad
Without a doubt, the 11th day of November 2016 is one of the most memorable for Filipino MMA fighter Eduardo Folayang since it was on that glorious day that he realized his long-cherished dream of becoming a world champion.
Tonight, on the eve of his stunning TKO victory over legendary Japanese fighter Shinya Aoki, the 5-foot-9 Folayang intends to make a successful defense of his ONE Championship lightweight crown against Australian challenger Martin Nguyen in a cross-divisional showdown that’s expected to draw a capacity crowd inside the Mall of Asia Arena.
“On November 11, 2016, that was the time that I got this (ONE Championship) lightweight belt. On November 10 2017 (tonight), this is time that I will remind everyone why I got this belt,” said 32-year-old prized fighter of Baguio City-based Team Lakay.
This will be the second time that Folayang, 32, will put his title on the line after he defeated New Zealand challenger Ev Ting via a unanimous decision last April, boosting his stock as a legit titleholder.
A three-time gold medalist in wushu competitions in Southeast Asian Games, Folayang is expected to draw added inspiration from the hometown crowd against the dangerous Nguyen, who is four years younger than him and currently holds the reigning ONE Championship featherweight crown.
Taking Nguyen, who sports a near unblemished win-loss mark of 9-1, lightly is far from Folayang’s mind since he knows how hungrier a perceived underdog is.
“Sa akin, motivation ‘yun, kasi it’s those memories na kung saan I go there as an underdog, halos 90 percent ng mga sanay na dito sa MMA, they’re not expecting you to win, so I always take it as motivation,” he said.
“‘Yung memories, ‘yung mga remembrance na nakuha ko doon, I take them as a part of this fight, para as much as possible, I can hold this belt for a long time,” added Folayang, who is sporting an 18-5 mark and riding on a four-fight winning streak.
A pair of Folayang’s fellow Team Lakay standouts are also eager to make their presence felt, with Danny Kingad challenging ONE Championship flyweight champion Adriano Moraes of Brazil for his crown and Kevin Belingon battling American-born Korean rival Kevin Chung in the bantamweight division.