Ev “E.T.” Ting shows me his hands and closes them. Two hams of a 155lbs cagefighter are now mighty fists, crisscrossed on the back with scars like a map carved from years of fighting.
“If you look at my knuckles there are teeth marks on almost every one,” Ting tells me in his singsong Kiwi drawl, as if he’s narrating the fact that he got a less than stellar grade at social science back in the day. “And every teeth mark is from a different person.”
Ting continues: “These scars are all from drunken, teenage bar fights and street fights. I wouldn’t say I was bullied growing up, but I did get into a lot of stupid fights in Auckland.”
Ting is currently in high spirits. He recently headlined ONE Championship 52 last February, winning a razor split-decision victory over former UFC and WEC veteran Kamal Shalorus after a grueling five rounds, improving his record at 13-3. That fight also put him on a four straight win streak, with two of those via finishes. More importantly, it catapulted him into title contention.
On Friday, this 27-year-old mixed martial artist will put his scars and his long history of violence to the ultimate test: fighting for the ONE Championship lightweight belt. He’ll be trying to take it from Eduard “Landslide” Folayang, the kingpin of the lightweight division. Folayang is Team Lakay’s flagship athlete and arguably the most famous modern combat athlete to come out of Baguio City and, as a corollary, the Philippines.
Born Evernew Ting in Malaysia to parents of Chinese descent (Mandarin is his first language) and came of age in New Zealand, Ting played soccer at Auckland’s Manurewa High School until he saw an MMA highlight reel online.
“Martial arts didn’t really come into the picture until I left high school,” Ting explains. “I always tried to blend in when I was growing up until soccer, when I played in inter-school competitions for the team and became team captain in the last two years.”
It was when he left school that he realized he needed to pursue something more individual. “My heroes back then, who got me into MMA were Fedor Emilianenko and Mark Hunt. I saw them fight and they obviously weren’t the strongest or fittest guys but they were finishing people. And when they won, they’d pick up this big novelty check and I thought ‘Yeah, that looks great!’”
Even armed with a Diploma of Sport of Recreation from New Zealand’s AUT, as a PT, opportunities for steady gainful employment eluded Ting and he continued to work several jobs to enable him to both train and make it through daily life.
“I was a [physical therapist] for a while and it did help a lot for daily wages,” Ting explains. “Even when I was studying I had part-time jobs—I hung up posters on the weekends, I was a mechanic. So it was basically living from paycheck to paycheck. In New Zealand, you see, they do provide a lot of education but there aren't a lot of job [opportunities] there. It’s the opportunities that are lacking.”
But Ting persevered and started training at Auckland MMA in 2009. That fight camp was where he acquired an undefeated stint as an amateur until he turned pro in 2011. To this day, he still considers it his home gym.
Gone were the days where he found himself in street fights with his friends. Ev the teenage brawler had become “E.T” the prizefighter.
“I definitely do not recommend anyone street fight. Specially not for kids. In my mindset now though, I used to street fight for free so why not get paid for doing what I used to do?“ Ting chuckles. “Used to be we’d be at a club and then somebody would start something and then somehow it all ends up 20 guys on 20 guys. They’re trying to get you with sucker punches and you sucker punch them back.”
Ting shakes his head, “Eventually I noticed I was actually beating up and winning against bigger guys. I was getting great reactions and that’s when I thought, hey, I might be really good at this? There’s definitely a lot of mischievous behavior that goes on there with growing up [in Auckland].”
Stylistically, Ting matches up well against Folayang. Both are versatile and give in to striking aggression when it suits them. Ting’s overhands and leaping hooks a la fellow Kiwi, Mark Hunt, are specially dangerous when you consider he’s still just 27 years old against Folayang’s almost venerable 33. His ground game is a mix of explosiveness and fluid transitions.
His chances can be measured in how he’s already destroyed three Filipino fighters: he took out Edward Kelly with a sniper-like head kick; Eric Kelly, Edward’s older brother, was disposed with a guillotine choke. But his most devastating win against the Philippines came against Honorio Banario, Folayang’s compatriot in Team Lakay, who got dissected on the ground by Ting’s jiu-jitsu and bowed to another guillotine, at just 56 seconds of round 1.
The odds are therefore good in favor of Ting in athleticism and youthful conditioning. Capitalizing on them is another matter. I consider Ting’s weaknesses as marginal. Folayang is almost a mirror image of him, Ting’s older brother in MMA. The brawl versus Rob Lisita and the weirdness of the Shalorus fight (where Ting seemed stunned and unable to cope when the Iranian wrestler resorted to striking and not his wrestling pedigree) testify to his failures only in the sense that they’re cracks in attention and improvisation.
“MMA has done a lot for me, it changed my life,” Ting says. “I always wanted to blend in and belong when I was growing up a Malaysian Chinese kid in an alien land—which is where my E.T. moniker comes from. I thought it was a normal thing to want and expect. What I discovered is it’s not about that at all. It’s about unlocking your own potential and becoming a better version of yourself.”
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure,” Ting quotes author Marianne Williamson, misattributing it to Nelson Mandela (a common mistake).
To me, it speaks of an athlete now coming into ascendancy. There are few opportunities more glorious in MMA, the modern gladiatorial sport, than to fight for a world title. If successful, Ting will be the first Malaysian to win a championship belt from an international combat organization like One Championship.
Ting agrees: “In the last few years of my fighting career I would often reflect on my performance and go ‘Man, why did I not do this or that during the fight?’ I would beat myself up in hindsight, an unconscious reflection. You only notice these things as you grow older and then you eventually conclude they don’t really matter because they’re part of your growth as a person.”
ONE Championship: Kings of Destiny will be held on April 21, Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Cage photos provided by ONE Championship.