Eduard Folayang couldn't have had it worse when he relinquished his world title.
The pride of Team Lakay and ONE Lightweight World Champion was headlining ONE: Legends of the World late last year in his homeland, at the Mall of Asia Arena. Even before the final bell of the ONE Championship main event rang, his opponent Martin Nguyen had already made history as the organization's first two-division World Champion, adding Folayang's belt to his featherweight title.
The man called "Landslide," on the other hand, was unable to join the referee in announcing the winner of the match, following a knockout counter from Nguyen that left Folayang sprawled on the canvas, in front of his fellow countrymen. Almost immediately after, many wondered if the 33-year-old (18W-6L-0D-6KOs) still has enough left in the tank to come back from such a crushing defeat.
Fast forward to today, May 18, Folayang will be stepping inside the squared circle for the first time since his unsuccessful title defense six months ago and kicking off his redemption tour, against the debuting Kharun Atlangeriev from Russia at ONE: Unstoppable Dreams in the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Contrary to what everyone thinks, the Baguio native didn't dwell too much on the career-changing outcome, especially with a strong support system and his coach Mark Sangiao even telling him, "Ganyan talaga, it's not your night."
Days before Folayang's in-ring return, FHM had the chance to talk to him in Singapore, and he gamely shared what went through his mind in those moments of uncertainty, "Iniisip ko kung paano dumating lahat dun sa pagkatalo, eh nag-training naman ako ng maayos. Kaso talagang kahit gaano ka-tindi yung preparation mo, kung hindi talaga para sayo yung laban, it's better to step back and prepare your arsenal well, para mas maging maganda yung execution in your next competition."
And while most fight fans consider his bout with Atlangeriev a make-or-break one, Folayang isn't losing sleep over it. He admits, "As a martial artist, gusto ko lang talagang i-showcase na hindi pa ko tapos, marami pa kong potential na mailalabas, at bagong strategy na maipapakita. Yun ang motivation ko. I don't take it as a very big deal na pipigil sa gusto mong gawin ngayon." But that doesn't mean that the eyes of the spinning back kick specialist aren't on the prize...
Which was harder to regain after the knockout loss, the mental or physical toughness?
Siguro yung mental, kasi yung sa physical naman, kinabukasan pwede ka nang mag-training ulit. Siyempre kinu-consider mo na lahat diyan, kung ano yung sasabihin ng mga bashers mo, tsaka ng mga taong close sa'yo. Pero maganda ring learning experience, kasi dun mo makikita yung mga taong talagang naniniwala sa'yo. Yun lang, hindi mo maiiwasan yung iba na nagsasabi, 'Bakit kasi siya nag-spin?' And it's part of the game, minsan nami-miscalculate natin yung mga areas na alam nating dun tayo malakas, pero dun pala tayo sisingitan.
What new things and adjustments have the team incorporated in your existing workout?
Yung wino-workout talaga namin yung ground game pag nagkakaroon kami ng opportunity na makababa, kasi wala sa Baguio. That's what we're doing—makapag-training kasama yung mga makakapag-share ng knowledge na kailangan namin dun sa aspeto ng laro. Of course, sa striking, pinipino pa namin yung mga kailangang areas, especially punches and kicks, tsaka how we can mix it up, para hindi ka lang offensive kundi defensive fighter din.
How has it been scouting Atlangeriev, who is apparently undefeated in 11 matches?
Basically, kung paano siya lumaban, and we noticed that in almost all of his wins, it's via submission. Kapag nakikita niya na malakas sa striking yung kalaban niya, as much as possible, gusto niyang dalhin sa baba. Ganun talaga yung mga Russians eh. Umuuso na ngayon yung "kabibe" na style, kung saan take him down and do a lot of pound and damage, at yun ang nakikita namin na kalakasan nila. Hindi mo naman maiiwasan na pupunta dun sa ganung sitwasyon, pero yun din ang kagandahan din ng kasabihan na "Prevention is beter than cure." Susubukan ko siyang dalhin sa laro ko, at kung kabaliktaran man ang mangyari, at least may inihanda ako.
Do you think he has more hunger than you, given that this will be his ONE debut?
Inisip ko na rin na, for now, I'm not the reigning champion, and kung gaano man siya ka-gutom as a debutant, may rason din ako for accepting this challenge. Mental battle talaga, kasi kung ano yung palagi niyang ginagawa sa laban, hindi naman mawawala eh. Tinitignan ko din yung mga kalakasan ko na pwede niyang masilip, at magiging mas maingat ako ngayon. Although it doesn't mean hindi ka na susugod. The aggressiveness is there, pero tignan na lang natin kung ano yung mas magandang possible attack.
Your thoughts on ONE CEO Chatri Sityodton and your friend/foe Martin Nguyen having confidence on your comeback.
Siyempre dagdag motivation yun. As a martial artist, alam mo yung naniniwala sila dahil sa character natin in the past that we always rise to the challenge. Nakakataba ng puso na marinig na yun yung wish nila para sa'kin, and regardless, I will do my best for this fight, para hindi maging mas bitter yung pill na natikman ko from the last fight.
How would you describe your current approach, one fight at a time, or reclaim the title as fast as possible?
It's actually two-way. We have a vision, may journey tayong gustong puntahan. But we need to focus on the obstacles in our way. Baka dahil gusto nating mapabilis yung pagpunta, yun pa yung maging dahilan para mag-U-turn pa ulit tayo, mapapalayo pa dun sa landas. So I take the present seriously, and after I pass this test, who knows, a bigger trial will be coming. We have our eyes on redemption, but accomplish the one in front of us first para mas marami tayong matutunan na baon for that next step.
ONE: Unstoppable Dreams will be available for free streaming through the ONE Super App