ONE Championship: Similar paths intersect once again for Eduard Folayang, Shinya Aoki
Santino Honasan on Mar 28, 2019 10:07 AM
Eduard Folayang defeated Shinya Aoki for the ONE Lightweight World Championship back in 2016 (Photo courtesy of ONE Championship)
In November of 2016, an unlikely challenger in Filipino mixed martial artist Eduard “Landslide” Folayang stepped up against one of the most dangerous ONE Championship titleholders in Japanese legend Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki.
Even more unlikely, for most, was the idea that Folayang stood a chance against one of the most lethal grapplers in the world.
Unlikely however, doesn’t mean impossible, and Folayang pulled of what many will still consider a massive upset by neutralizing Aoki’s lethal submission game and scoring the third-round knockout to dethrone the Japanese king and become the third man to hold the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
Since that landmark night in Singapore, Folayang and Aoki have gone on pretty parallel paths.
After stopping Aoki to become champion, Folayang was able to defend the title once against Ev Ting, and then would lose the strap in devastating fashion to Martin Nguyen.
Folayang bounced back with a pair of dominant decision wins over Kharun Atlangeriev and Aziz Pahrudinov and again earned a shot at the vacated ONE Lightweight World Championship.
In the title bout against Singaporean star Amir Khan, Folayang displayed a new level of well-rounded dominance to shut down Khan and for the second time in his career, become the ONE Lightweight World Champion.
After losing to Folayang, Aoki absorbed another loss, this time to Ben Askren, marking the first time in his career that he would suffer back-to-back losses.
Since then however, the submission machine would reel off three straight dominant victories, submitting Rasul Yakhyaev and beating down Shannon Wiratchai, both in under one round.
In his most recent and most dominant win to date, Aoki choked out former title challenger Ev Ting in just 57 seconds to become the number one contender to the title.
Both Folayang and Aoki are on impressive three-fight winning streaks, and nearly three years after their first encounter, the two lightweight stars are once again on a collision course, and they’re set to meet in the main event of ONE Championship’s biggest card to date, ONE: A New Era in Tokyo, Japan on March 31st.
Folayang feels that it’s this very history between them that makes their rematch worthy of the main event spot.
“Malalaking mga pangalan kasi yung andun eh, siguro napaka-gandang storyline din ng magiging fight namin ni Shinya,” said the reigning champion. “After that 2016 victory, may mga ups and downs kaming dalawa, and we’ve been able to give our very best para mag-tagpo kami ulit, and sa Japan pa kami mag-tatagpo.”
The battlefield this time around will be in Aoki’s backyard, but the visiting Folayang feels that the hometown crowd is more a concern for Aoki than it is for him.
“Sa akin, it doesn’t matter,” Folayang expressed. “Sa kanya, it’s either pressure or motivation for him, kasi siyempre sa kanya, it will be again parang yung DREAM times.”
“For me naman, mas gusto ko din na pumupunta sa labas para i-represent mo yung country mo. It’s either make it or break it for both of us,” he added.
This time around, Folayang expects an even more calculated approach from Aoki, who’s also looking to become a two-time champion in the division.
“Siguro yung mas-refned yung approach niya sa game niya, kasi kahit balibaliktarin natin, ang gusto namang ipunta ni Shinya yung laban sa doon sa ground, and as for me gusto ko din dun sa area na kung saan ako malakas, so I think mas refined siya ngayon.”
“For me naman, hindi naman ako na-stuck eh, hindi naman ako naging pabaya sa improvement ko, so may mailalagay siya sa table and me, may mailalagay din ako, so magandang matchup again this time, and it took us two, three years before facing each other again,” Folayang added.
Having already experienced what it’s like to grapple with someone as dangerous on the mat as Aoki, Folayang knows that while he was able to survive the first time around, he will still need to approach the rematch with a certain level of caution, especially since Aoki is on a mission to regain his title.
“Kahit bali-baliktarin natin, [yung ground game] naman yung panalo niya eh. Although siyempre, kailangan maging mas-cautious tayo this time around, kasi siyempre naramdaman na din niya ako nung naglaban kami, and naramdaman ko din naman kung paano yung power niya the last time, so it’s about the heart and the spirit ng mananalo dito, for sure.?
It would be easy to assume that Aoki took Folayang lightly during their first meeting back in 2016. With the way things played out, it’s highly unlikely that Aoki would make the same mistake again.
“I think no, he will not take me for granted, it’s about him kung mako-conquer niya yung sarili niya,” expressed Folayang. “For me naman, I need to capitalize kung ano yung areas na nakita ko na weaknesses niya.”
Eduard Folayang defends his ONE Lightweight World Championship against Shinya Aoki at ONE: A New Era on Sunday, March 31st, LIVE on ABS-CBN S+A channel 23, ABS-CBN S+A HD channel 166, and livestreaming on https://sports.abs-cbn.com/livestream/one, the ABS-CBN Sports Facebook Page, and on the iWant App!