The next test in the martial arts journey of ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard ‘Landslide’ Folayang (18-5) has arrived.
The Filipino star will take on ONE Featherweight World Champion Martin ‘The Situ-Asian’ Nguyen (9-1) in a champion versus champion bout that is already setting pulses racing ahead of their 10 November showdown.
The bout headlines ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD in the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, as Folayang looks to defend his lightweight title - and the honour of Filipino martial arts - on home soil.
Folayang captured the ONE Lightweight World Championship in dramatic fashion, when he defeated Japanese legend Shinya Aoki last November by TKO, then defended the belt against Ev Ting at ONE: KINGS OF DESTINY earlier this year.
The title defense was an occasion that was full of nerves and anxiety for ‘Landslide’, who admitted he’d put himself under considerable pressure to retain the title, and do so in impressive fashion.
“There was a lot going on during my first title defence,” he said. “There was immense pressure on me to put on a good performance, because I always want to make the people of the Philippines happy.
“At the same time, my daughter was just born, so I was juggling a lot of things personally. It was hard to be completely prepared for the bout. But the important thing is that we learn.”
His five-round decision victory over Ting meant Folayang cemented his position at the top of the ONE lightweight rankings, and set him up for the historic clash with Nguyen, an opponent he admitted he was surprised by.
With the bout signed and sealed, Folayang is deep in preparation for the bout, which sees two reigning champions go head to head for the first time in ONE Championship history.
Nguyen is one of ONE’s shining stars. The 28-year-old Vietnamese Australian is riding a spectacular five-bout win streak that has seen him finish each opponent in eye-catching fashion.
His most recent finish saw him end the title reign of the unbeaten Marat Gafurov with a one-punch KO that shocked the martial arts world at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS in August. It was a finish that made Folayang sit up and take notice, even though at the time he wasn’t aware he’d be facing the Aussie at the time.
“Martin shocked the world in his last bout,” said Folayang. “Gafurov is not an easy opponent, but Martin showed incredible toughness and tenacity.
“It brought back a lot of memories of my victory against Shinya (Aoki). This is going to be a battle between two martial artists who are capable of anything.”
Folayang sees his time as world champion as much more than being a standard-bearer for ONE Championship. He also sees it as a chance to achieve his lifelong aim in martial arts - to inspire others, particularly those in his home nation of the Philippines.
“My time as champion has been spent working with the youth, visiting schools in the Philippines to give motivational talks to young athletes,” the Baguio City native explained. “It is a privilege that I hold dear to my heart. To be able to touch the lives of others is an awesome feeling.
“I remember the times when I was just starting, and experiencing the same hardships that these kids are going through now. It was tough. So if I can give them just a little bit of inspiration, then I know it will really boost their morale.”
His next chance to do that will be when he steps into the ONE Championship cage to face Nguyen, who has a different motivation ahead of the contest.
“The Situ-Asian” has the chance to become the first athlete in ONE Championship history to hold world championships in two weight classes simultaneously, a feat that would afford him legendary status in martial arts circles.
Folayang may not have the opportunity to add to his belt collection against Nguyen, but victory over another active world champion would see him elevated to pound-for-pound status as one as one of ONE Championship’s most revered athletes.
Despite the competitive rivalry for their upcoming contest, Folayang revealed the pair are actually friends, having spent time together during a media tour of the United States last year. Folayang says the rivalry may be there, but the respect goes hand-in-hand with it.
“Martin and I had gotten to know each other during our tour in the United States last year, and I consider him a friend,” he explained. “But I am definitely up for the challenge, and that is why I accepted this bout.
“Martin is a great competitor and he has earned the highest level of my respect. If anything, there is no chance of me underestimating him. That would be unwise.”
That mindset is driving Folayang through the last few weeks of his training camp, as he finalises preparations for their historic meeting on 10 November.
“I am preparing for the best Martin Nguyen possible, one that has no weaknesses, and that is the only way I can prepare to be at my best,” he stated.
“I believe this match is going to be a battle between two high-level martial artists and world champions, and fans have definitely never seen anything like this. It is going to be a battle from start to finish.”