Eduard “Landslide” Folayang knew winning the ONE Lightweight World Championship was a big deal, but he did not know it would change his life, and the lives of those around him, so quickly and dramatically.
Only four months removed from defeating Shinya Aoki for the coveted title at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR, he has turned into a national celebrity, and fans are starting to notice him everywhere — on the street, in the hotel, and even at local eateries.
“My life has gotten a little bit busier,” the friendly 33-year-old says. “A lot of people are messaging me more than before, so it is a pretty good feeling. Even in a restaurant, some people just recognize you and want to talk with you. Sometimes, [even] if you are rushing, you really have to extend your time.”
That newfound popularity has extended beyond Folayang, too. Even his wife gets stopped, with fans going up to her to talk about her husband. Folayang credits it to being a ripple effect, which has also elevated “Landslide” to an even more prominent platform, both on a national and local scale.
In the Philippines as a whole, the proud Igorot comes across as one of the best leaders any country could ask for. He is full of pride, has represented the Philippines in international wushu competition since the early 2000s, and brought home numerous medals, including gold at the South East Asia Games.
The lightweight has put that same sense of pride into his mixed martial arts career, a sport that has been blossoming over the past decade thanks to the success of camps such as Baguio’s Team Lakay.
Now, along with ONE co-owner Manny Pacquiao, as well as ONE Heavyweight World Champion Brandon Vera, Folayang can further expand the sport’s footprint within the country, and could turn the Philippines into a top MMA destination in Asia.
“The state [of] Filipino MMA is still growing,” he explains. “A lot of fighters are dreaming to make it to [a] high level of competition. I can also say there are a lot more promotions in different regions or provinces here in the Philippines, so it is just an indication that the sport is really growing here.
“I think it will grow more this upcoming year, especially with me and Brandon [Vera] since we are the lightweight and heavyweight champions.”
While Folayang will do his part to spread awareness nationally, he is still concentrating heavily on making an impact in his hometown. The people immediately benefitting from his wisdom are those in Team Lakay, whose many members have always looked up to him.
“That is one of the good things I am able to give to my teammates,” offers the champion. “To make them be able to learn from my failures and from my achievements, so they can use it for themselves and be successful in their careers.”
For those training with him at Team Lakay, his story has to be inspiring. Similar to his teammates, Folayang used wushu as a way to escape poverty, to get a degree from the University of the Cordilleras, to compete internationally, and eventually to transition into MMA and become a world champion.
Although “Landslide” has set the bar for his Baguio City pals, he is still planning to lead by example. In fact, his next goal is partially motivated by the next generation of mixed martial artists.
“My big goal is to hold the title for a long time, and to continue evolving and improving,” he says. “I know there are a lot more things I need to improve on. Every fight, I am learning. I am still in the peak of my career, and I need to do well so these up-and-coming fighters who are looking at me will push themselves to be world champions, too.”