On Sunday, 31 March, these rivals will meet for the second time in the main event, and the challenger will look for redemption in front of his home crowd in Tokyo, Japan.
The first time they met at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR in November 2016, Folayang upset Aoki to end his long World Title reign and change the landscape of Asian mixed martial arts.
Two and a half years later, they will meet again for another epic clash of styles.
Reigning World Champion Folayang is a compact, powerful striker, while his challenger is a rangy grappling specialist with the ability to pull off spectacular submissions unlike anyone else in the sport.
With so much at stake and a variety of ways in which the bout could play out, fans can expect a thrilling battle at the top of the bill. Who will win is anyone’s guess, but if either man can implement these keys to victory, they could be more likely to get their hand raised inside the Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Aoki’s Early Intensity
“Tobikan Judan” is a fast-starter who thrives in the opening moments of a match. Not many can survive the initial pressure from the Tokyo native.
The Japanese icon is capable of dominating over the distance, but his 25 finishes in the opening round – including 21 submissions – show that most of his success comes when he attacks early.
His focus will be on pressuring Folayang from the opening bell and not letting up on the offensive until he can find a submission – just like he did to Ev Ting, Shannon Wiratchai, and Rasul Yakhyaev to claim his last three victories.
Early aggression also gives him the opportunity to attack when both men are less sweaty and slippery, which in turn helps to lock up a submission.
In their first bout, Aoki enjoyed his most dominant spell in the first round where he dominated from back control, but the pendulum swung toward “Landslide” the longer the bout went on.
Small adjustments could have led to a first-round victory in 2016 – and if he can implement them this time, he could claim a signature win in Tokyo.
Folayang’s Control Of The Distance
Knowing that “Tobikan Judan” likes to sprint out of the blocks, “Landslide” must be ready to fend off that early pressure. His range is key, both to keep Aoki at bay and to implement his takedown defense.
The Filipino is renowned for his patience, as well as his ability to dart in and out of range. He rarely overcommits to an attack that can put him in danger. Instead, he works his jab, side kicks, and powerful low kicks to score and keep his rivals at bay.
By using these fundamental techniques, he can stay away from Aoki’s clinch and wear him down before upping the intensity.
The reigning World Champion’s ability to maintain the distance will also be the key to staying on his feet in this battle of striker versus grappler.
He has an almost impenetrable sprawl thanks to his explosiveness and low center of gravity. If he can force Aoki to shoot in from afar, it is more likely he will be able to throw his legs back and stay upright.
Folayang has the conditioning to compete hard for all five rounds. The longer the contest goes, the more he is able to build up damage, frustrate his rival, and force him to try something desperate, which could open him up to a finishing blow.
“Tobikan Judan’s” Close-Quarter Tie-Ups
Aoki has the most success with takedowns when he gets in the clinch, where his judo base has given him effective leg trips.
He took Folayang down several times in their first meeting from close quarters, and he has done the same to Kamal Shalorus, Shannon Wiratchai, Ev Ting, and others in The Home Of Martial Arts.
In his recent battles with Russians Aziz Pahrudinov and Kharun Atlangeriev, Folayang effectively stuffed takedowns with his sprawl, but found himself on the mat after they pushed him onto the fence.
If Aoki can work his way inside, lock up with the Filipino, and take control of his upper body, he will be in a better position to drag or trip him to the mat. Then, he can begin to work on the ground.
Folayang’s ability to work back to his feet has improved, so if “Tobikan Judan” gets him down, it will be crucial that he ties up his limbs. Luckily, he is a master of using triangles to secure leg mounts and limit his opponents’ chances to escape.
“Landslide’s” Show Stoppers
The Team Lakay representative cannot expect to rely on his signature highlight-reel techniques, but once Folayang has laid the foundation for a special attack with simple-but-effective shots, he can unleash the heavy artillery.
While Aoki was still fresh early in their first bout, he took “Landslide” down off a flying knee attempt that he saw coming.
However, as the effects of the bout began to wear on the former World Champion in round three, he became slower to react, and the Filipino connected with the same technique.
That shot signaled the beginning of the end. It opened up the opportunity for the Filipino to attack with ground strikes and win World Title gold for the first time.
If Folayang can force more desperate entries from the challenger, he will be able to set the traps for his spinning back kicks, knees, and power punches.
These are all potential bout-enders thanks to Baguio City native’s power.