ONE Championship lead commentator and Fox Sports Presenter Steve Dawson gives his thoughts on the headlining world championship bout of ONE: DEFENDING HONOR.
This matchup has been a long time coming. I first encountered Eduard Folayang six years ago at the Resorts World Casino in Singapore’s Sentosa island. His strongman appearance, spotless persona, and Filipino heritage made him the perfect front man to launch a new mixed martial arts organization called Martial Combat.
The promotion survived only for that year. But from there, the seeds for ONE Championship were sown through the foresight of Chatri Sityodtong and Victor Cui, and Folayang has been a cornerstone of its development ever since.
After coming close so many times, the 32-year-old finally gets his chance at a title shot. But the good news ends there. The bad news is that his opportunity comes against the formidable Shinya Aoki, ONE’s longest reigning champion, and in iconic terms, the man who has been to ONE Championship what Folayang was to Martial Combat back in 2010.
Aoki (39-6) is among the world’s very best submission grapplers. For a lightweight, he is lean but deceptively strong. His long fingers enable relentless torque on an opponent’s struggling body. He has a fearsome, somewhat scary fighting persona, one that makes you question his reasonableness as a man — just what you do not need in an opponent: an unreasonable submission expert.
His record shows one weakness, the quite human susceptibility to heavy strikes. Two of his losses have come by decision, four by KO / TKO. This is what makes this match as exciting as any that Aoki has been involved in with ONE Championship.
Folayang can strike very well, and he keeps on coming. Spinning back fists, spinning kicks, overhand rights, crashing elbows and forearms, slamming leg kicks — they all land and are seemingly relentless. Two more diverse lightweight bodies you be hard put to find. If this comes down to a striking contest, Folayang seems like the only winner.
There are two conditions to satisfy, however. Firstly, the Filipino has scar tissue that opens up in wars; secondly although there will inevitably be some strikes, that won’t be the shape of this contest. Aoki will move to bring this fight to close quarters on the ground, and try as Folayang might, while he may have the strength, he does not have the technique to compete in those trenches with the Japanese warrior.
Folayang’s hope is either that he can crush Aoki with flying knees and kicks before the champion gets into his game, or that he can hang on through the later rounds to do the same, as fatigue becomes an added factor for both men.
Somewhere in-between that recipe for a Filipino victory, lies the threat that Aoki will pull off a submission or dominate the ground for such extended periods that the damage Folayang inflicts will be rendered secondary on the judges’ scorecards.
As long as this bout lasts, keep your eyes wide open, for a finish could come at any time.
Steve Dawson is ONE Championship’s lead commentator, a Fox Sports presenter and an author of sporting biographies. He can be found on Twitter & Instagram as @Gulasahi and on Facebook as Steve Dawson.