Forget UFC 217, if you’re Filipino, ONE Championship: Legends of the World is November’s biggest MMA event, as local hero Eduard Folayang defends his lightweight title in a super-fight against Martin Nguyen.
There will be about 20,000 people at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila tomorrow, and just about every single one of them will be screaming for ‘The Landslide’. He might not get much play outside of Asia, but, Conor McGregor aside, it’s tough to think of a more popular fighter in the world right now.
Some are comparing him to his nation’s favourite fighting son, Manny Pacquiao. He might not have quite reached that level yet, but he has reached superstar status. His last fight did a 26% ratings share in the Philippines, meaning one in every four Filipinos watching TV that night was watching him.
Like the former eight-division boxing champion, Folayang is soft spoken and beyond humble. He’s taking all the attention wash over him.
“It never came to my mind that they would be saying I am the next Manny Pacquiao. I watched him on TV, but then I am encouraged when he’s at my fights. I think, wow, the one I was watching is watching me. It gives me a lot of inspiration and motivation to continue this legacy.”
In fact, the only time he doesn’t take everything in is stride is when he literally can’t, as he’s stopped and mobbed for selfies any time he’s out in public.
His star power is clear by ONE’s willingness to put him up against another of its new champions, but Folayang is backing himself to win against a man who is moving up in weight for the opportunity. He will, however, only do so in the most deferential and respectful way possible.
“Martin is an intelligent fighter. He knows how to play his game. Of course, I didn’t expect there’d be a cross-division fight between us because I considered him a friend, but in our journey as martial artists things happen this way and we need to embrace it. As a champion, I need to face whoever the promotion puts in my way and I need to be ready for that. Of course, he wants to make history and I need to defend my legacy.
“Of course, I need to perfectly execute my game plan and strategy for the fight. Anything can happen, but it will be beautiful.”