Reigning title holder Eduard “Landslide” Folayang is no stranger to being an underdog. Just last November, Folayang took on the gargantuan task of facing Shinya Aoki for the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
At the time, many had written Folayang off. After all, Aoki had not been defeated in over three years, and was unbeaten inside the ONE Championship cage. The Japanese champion was every bit of a legend in the sport, and was entering the bout as an overwhelming favorite.
With the odds stacked against him, Folayang clenched his fists and sought to accomplish the impossible. The Filipino hero knew there was one aspect where he would not lose to Aoki – his tremendous heart and his unbreakable will to win.
“The challenge and the pressure were there, but I knew I had to do everything that I could. I had to give the best performance of my life to prove to myself, above all, that there is no mountain I couldn’t climb,” said Folayang. “Even if no one believed in me. I had faith in myself and in my abilities. That night, I just simply was not going to be denied.”
On 26 May, 21-year-old Agilan Thani of Malaysia, and 24-year-old Istela Nunes of Brazil, take on the biggest tests of their careers thus far at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES. Nunes, with an unblemished record of 5-0, will take on reigning ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee, while Thani, young and unbeaten at 7-0, goes head-to-head against ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben “Funky” Askren.
Both these young martial artists are massive underdogs in their own right, facing undefeated champions in Lee and Askren who represent the very best in the world, much like Aoki was. Because Folayang was in a similar position just months ago, the Filipino martial artist knows all too well what is required to go from being underdog to champion, and offers some choice pieces of advice.
“Your will to win has to be greater than anything. It has to be greater than your self doubts, it has to be greater than your critics,” said Folayang. “I never entertained the thought of losing. I went into that cage with the intent of bringing honor and glory to my country, and to claim victory for my fans. Maintaining focus is essential, and you have to be laser-focused by the time you enter the battlefield. Most of all, you have to have that faith in God that, win or lose, you will never be alone.”
When Thani and Nunes enter the cage to face their superstar adversaries, the whole world will be watching. Just like Folayang, they have the opportunity to make history and shock the world. Both fighters will have five rounds of five minutes to make seize their opportunity at greatness. Folayang says it’s all about matching their style with their opponents’, and making sure their strengths take precedence.
“With Aoki, I knew I had to remain calm to be able to stay light on my feet. You can’t go in there and be stiff, you have to be loose and relaxed,” said Folayang. “Read your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, and focus on what you can offer and how you can counter. Make no mistake about it, however, it’s definitely not easy. Going up against the best in the world never is.”
With a little more than two weeks to go until Fight Night, both Nunes and Thani have a lot of ground to cover. Folayang concluded by giving one last piece of advice to the two young underdogs.
“You never know what will happen in the cage. It’s a fight, and it’s very unpredictable. Anything is possible,” said Folayang. “The most important thing is to give your very best. A title shot is a very rare opportunity. Give it your very best, win or lose. You don’t want to find yourself months later living in regret. This is your moment, so take it with 100 per cent effort.”