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Eduard Folayang:
From a poor boy to global sports icon
by Mark Pasagoy

HEART OF A CHAMPION -- Eduard Folayang has defeated long-time champion Shinya Aoki in late 2016 to capture the ONE light-weight world belt. -- ONE photo

If one is to dissect the life of Igorot fighter Eduard Folayang, never in his dreams would he have realized that he would be a world champion in the field of mixed martial arts (MMA) and on top of that, become a global icon, which would shape a great influence to the youth not only to the Cordilleras but also to the country as well.

Presently at the top of his weight division in the largest MMA promotions in Asia, ONE Championship, the Baguio-born sportsman creates a positive impact in and out of the cage, drawing bigger aspirations to the younger generations after him.

His motivation and success to become a world champion is now the inspiration for all who would like to follow in his footsteps.

Like any other story, he started from the grassroots of the sports before he caught attention in his field. However, he did not only look into MMA as a key to make ends meet for his family. For him his passion overcomes the thought of merely making money from his chosen profession, a philosophy he vows to hand down to budding and aspiring sportsmen like him.

The making of a sports icon

As a youngster, Folayang started to join the sepak takraw team in high school to earn allowance. He said, this was originally swayed when he knew he would be helping his parents support his needs in education.

Nung nasa high school una akong naging athlete ng sepak takraw. I did that para magkaroon ako ng allowance sa school,” Folayang said.

From 1997, he continued to train as a sepak player. However, he shifted from team events and started training as a kickboxer in 1999.

An earlier report by ONE Championship says that Folayang’s family was tragically impoverished. The world champion was one of nine children, five of them passed away due to sickness because they did not have access to proper medical care.

His father worked as a laborer and part-time farmer and his mother worked at a laundromat. Both parents never learned to read or write. It is something they made sure their children would.

In his college days at the University of the Cordilleras, he pursued to be part of the school’s varsity team to help him earn a degree.

Later on his talent was discovered by another well-known Baguio sports icon Tony Candelaria, who now is the chair of the National Wushu Federation-Baguio Benguet.

Candelaria, a wushu taolu and wushu sanda coach, is known for discovering and bringing local talents in the national and international stage. Apart from Folayang, other young athletes he managed to develop and bring to world competitions include SEA Games gold medalist Daniel Parantac and Asian and World Wushu champion Benjie Rivera and Divine Wally.

Later in 2000, Folayang started training as a wushu sanda (combative) athlete. The turn of events paved the way for the young athlete to shift to another sports career until 2011.This opened a great number of opportunities for his participation as one of the members of the Philippine National Wushu Team where he managed to decorate himself with distinctions, including three gold medals from the Southeast Asian Games in 2003 in Vietnam, in Bacolod City in 2005, and in Indonesia in 2011.

He added honors to his career by claiming silver and bronze medals in his Asian Wushu Championship appearances in Busan, Korea in 2002 and Doha, Qatar in 2006, following a bronze medal stint in 2005 during the world championship in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Like other athletes who were supervised Candelaria, Folayang said his entry to wushu challenged him to pursue a greater importance in the field of sports.

“Coach Candelaria helped me a lot. He provided encouragement and assistance, especially when I was chosen to be part of the national team,” said Folayang, adding his experiences gave him a better understanding of his passion for the contact sport.

During his time as a wushu specialist in 2006, he stepped forward to take a larger challenge by entering the world of MMA. Back then the birth of the world-renowned and crown jewel Team Lakay gym was conceived through the efforts of members like Folayang through the initiative of coach Mark Sangiao and colleagues Mark Eddiva, Honorio Banario, Rey Docyogen, and Kevin Belingon.

Stepping forward as the next Philippine sports icon

Now at 34, the wushu black belt is seen to step up as the next global sporting figure for the Philippines, following the fami-liar contribution of the eight-time world champion and son of General Santos City, Sen. Manny Pacquiao.

In a press release shared by ONE Championship early this year, as Pacquiao’s curtain looms after his 22-year prizefighting career and the rise of MMA as the fastest growing sport around the world, Folayang is seen as one of the worthy successors for the 38-year-old boxer.

“My dream is to see a local star becoming a national star, and then he becomes a global superstar. I think that in Eduard Folayang, we have a big potential there,” ONE Championship Chairman Chatri Sityodtong said.

“With Manny Pacquiao retiring, he is going to leave a big void in the Philippines because he is a sports hero. I believe Eduard Folayang has all the right makings of becoming the next flag bearer of the Philippines on an international stage,” Sityodtong added.

This takes into consideration the striking similarities between the two sports icons, where they started with almost nothing but established themselves as one of the brightest athletes in their respective fields.

Folayang, as another world champion, puts the Philippines in the world sports map as one of the best pools of MMA champions.

“I love him as a champion. He represents true martial arts values. He is humble and courageous. He is mentally strong. He has a warrior spirit. He’s always training and upgrading his skills. Today, he’s genuinely a well-rounded mixed martial artist,” Sityodtong said.

Pointing out the humble beginnings of Pacquiao, the ONE Championship top honcho perceives the same with the Team Lakay fighter. “That’s what we saw in Eduard Folayang as well. Nothing has changed even if he is now a world champion. It’s just the same old Eduard as before,” Sityodtong said.

While Pacquiao’s contribution is something to be equalled, Folayang as a promising descendant has his years to come and prove that champions are not only meant to be role models inside the ring or cage or in any competitive sports field but also to their community and the society.

Making sports more inspiring to the Filipinos

Before the limelight of stardom has reached him, Folayang gathered his inspiration from other Filipino athletes back in the days.

According to the orthodox fighter, who traced his roots in Sadanga, Mountain Province, he also used to look up to sports icons when he was still young and before becoming a two-time world champ.

Among his sports super heroes are Michael Jordan, Filipina trickster Elma Muros, and Olympics silver medalist Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco.

Apart from wishing he got the moves like Mike, the speeds like that of Muros, and the punching power similar to Velasco, these sports figures in particular helped him build his dreams.

“Growing up, it’s important to have your role models. 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 a 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,” Eduard shared through ONE Championship.

As he now finds himself in the same position as his own sports heroes, he’s fully aware that the moniker name “Landslide” now serves as an inspiration to Filipino youths.

Now that another Pinoy, a full-blooded Cordilleran, has reached the ranks of world champions, the enthusiasm to each compatriot has reached a wider scale.

As sports motivated him to become a better person, Folayang envisions that more people, particularly the younger group, engage themselves in the practice.

“It is an honor and privilege. I am so happy that God has given me this opportunity to be an inspiration to the youth particularly in Baguio, the Cordillera, at the same time around the world,” he said.

Folayang, in an earlier statement, said there are fans who have reached out to tell that to him every time he steps into the cage, he inspires them to overcome their own challenges and conquer their own battles.

“I also hope the young generation will also strive to be the best version they can be,” Folayang said, adding he will to continue to be an inspiration and a beacon of hope for all his countrymen who follow him.

Giving back and making an impact to the community

Despite his present stature as ONE Championship lightweight world champion, the Igorot MMA specialist has never set his ego higher than his head.

As a BS Education graduate, his fondness for teaching brings him closer to stirring the youth in pursuing and embracing the discipline every kind of sport can bring to their lives.

Since delivering a stunning upset to former champion Shinya Aoki last November 2016 in Singapore, and successfully defending his belt for the second time in a row in front of the Filipino people last April against Malaysian-Kiwi sensation E.V. Ting, he went back to where he started.

Apart from accepting speaking engagements from local up to the international scenes, he also continues to train aspiring athletes like him in the gym. He said he wants those who want to follow his footsteps to dream big.

Being a big brother to all other Team Lakay Gym members, he usually teaches and adjusts his techniques whenever his assistance is needed.

“Sa gym tuwang-tuwa ‘yung mga bata kapag nakikipaglaro ako sa kanila, especiallywhen I fine-tune my fighting skills and techniques sa level nila,” said Folayang as describes his training sessions with younger athletes in their gym.

He said by doing small things little by little through an existing venue and platform, he already creates a positive impact and shares inspiration.

“Gusto ko apart from the skills, ma-pick up nila hindi ‘yung kahirapan or kahit anong bagay ang sagabal sa mga pangarap nila. I want them to know na kapag naniwala sila sa kanilang kakayahan at syempre kapag nagtiwala sila sa Diyos walang imposibleng pangarap,” he stated.

Asked for his future plans, he said with or without any championship belt or a title he will still find a career in becoming a mentor in sports. “I want to teach in schools and share the importance of the values learned in martial arts and the hard part of living it as an example,” he said.

The Igorot champ continues to encourage people to become an inspiration for others to become successful in their respective fields.

“Do not let your situation or predicaments control your life. There’s a solution to everything, we just have to find it,” he said.

“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 said.
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