The wait is almost over for the biggest bout in ONE Championship lightweight history at ONE: A NEW ERA.
This Sunday, 31 March, ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang defends his belt for the first time in his second reign at the top of the division against his old rival, Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki.
When the pair first met in 2016, Folayang entered as the challenger and shocked the martial arts world by scoring a third-round TKO to end the Japanese legend’s long tenure at the top.
In the rematch, the roles are reversed with the Filipino in possession of the gold. A new dynamic is also at play, as the encounter will take place in Aoki’s hometown of Tokyo, and he is sure to have the crowd inside the Ryogoku Kokugikan on his side.
Before these two icons of mixed martial arts face off in the main event, take a look at everything you need to know about both athletes, and their journey to ONE: A NEW ERA.
The Road To Tokyo
Folayang (21-6) rebounded from losing the ONE Lightweight World Title in style with three wins last year.
After a period of reflection and reevaluation, the Team Lakay representative returned to action at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS, where he took a dominant unanimous decision over Kharun Atlangeriev.
On that same night in Singapore, Aoki made his long-awaited return to the lightweight division after more than a year away pursuing welterweight bouts and grappling super-matches. His performance was spectacular – it took him less than a round to submit Rasul Yakhyaev.
Both men were in action again two months later at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS. “Landslide” stepped up a gear to take a victory from Aziz Pahrudinov, and “Tobikan Judan” made quick work of Shannon Wiratchai. The first-round finish came via ground an pound to give the submission specialist a rare TKO.
Three first-round victories in a row booked the Evolve representative’s place in the ONE: A NEW ERA main event, but he had to wait until November to find his opponent, when Folayang took on Amir Khan at ONE: CONQUEST OF CHAMPIONS for the vacant belt.
In front of a partisan home crowd in Manila, “Landslide” put on the most complete display of his career to overwhelm the Singaporean, take a wide unanimous decision, and begin his second reign as lightweight king.
Breaking Down The Bout
Ahead of this highly-anticipated clash, both athletes and the experts at onefc.com have had months to analyze and break down every facet of the match-up.
Even among the World Champions that populate his gym, Folayang is his country’s biggest mixed martial arts star, and he is approaching 31 March with supreme confidence.
His preparations began before the turn of the year, and by the time he was little more than a month removed from his date with destiny, he was predicting another finish in Tokyo.
“Landslide” also spoke about how he has managed to split his time between his intense training schedule and his duties as a father following the birth of his second daughter in December, and how he hopes his conduct inside and outside the ring can influence a generation of future Filipino World Champions.
Aoki closed 2018 by looking ahead to his upcoming task, and made no secret of the fact he expected it would be a big challenge to reclaim the World Title. As his in-ring homecoming drew closer, he admitted he felt the pressure of competing at home, though he has left no stone unturned in his quest to even the score with his adversary.
However, one look at the 35-year-old’s record in World Title bouts, as well as his history of competing in front of his countrymen, and his ability to pull off unbelievable finishes on the big stage suggests nerves will not be a factor at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Furthermore, “Tobikan Judan” has looked forward to being a part of The Home Of Martial Arts’ debut in The Land Of The Rising Sun for a long time, and he is determined to inspire his countrymen with a signature display of mixed martial arts.
If all that was not enough to whet your appetite for the main event of ONE’s greatest ever martial arts showcase, we took a look at why Folayang-Aoki II could be even better than their first, fascinating meeting.
What’s more, we also examined the keys to victory for both men, as they aim to emerge with their hand raised from a bout that has mixed martial arts fans around the world debating what the final outcome will be.