The long-awaited ONE Lightweight World Title rematch will be the main event at the iconic Ryogoku Kokugikan when The Home Of Martial Arts arrives in Tokyo, Japan for the first time on Sunday, 31 March.
It is a contest that has fans buzzing with excitement all over the world – not least in Baguio City, Philippines, where Folayang is also counting the days until he closes a historic show in the main event.
“Of course I am happy to be part of the first event in Japan, especially because of how big this is going to be,” the ONE Lightweight World Champion said.
“Just looking at the card, it’s undeniable that this is the biggest event of the promotion yet.”
He began his second reign as World Champion after a victory against Amir Khan at ONE: CONQUEST OF CHAMPIONS in November, which was arguably the most complete performance of his mixed martial arts career.
Aoki was on a mission to reclaim the belt last year, and he stormed to three consecutive first-round wins – highlighted by a 57-second submission of Ev Ting at ONE: KINGDOM OF HEROES in October to earn the right to challenge the World Champion in Tokyo.
In contrast to their first meeting, it will be the Filipino hero who will enter the arena with the belt over his shoulder, but he says that has not changed anything about his preparation.
“The only difference right now is that I’m the one defending the World Title, so as much as possible, my mind is set on preparing to the best of my abilities to guarantee a favorable result,” Folayang shared.
However, chasing the World Title seems to have put a rocket underneath Aoki.
He has looked unstoppable as he has chased the finish with urgency, and Folayang recognizes he will have to be prepared to battle hard to stay on his feet, avoid “Tobikan Judan’s” dangerous submission game, and put himself in a position to execute his game plan.
“He finished all his opponents in the first round, so that means he’s really determined and prepared to reclaim his belt,” the 35-year-old says.
“I think he’s still the best at what he does, which is grappling, and that’s where I need to be more careful now more than ever.”
Despite his caution, the Baguio native’s confidence is unwavering.
He has already had his hand raised in a World Title main event against Aoki once, and he has shown how far his skills have evolved since then.
Furthermore, overcoming adversity in the years since that first meeting has made his mind stronger. He says that could be the difference between these warriors in Tokyo and open the door to another win by stoppage.
“I think I have an advantage because of my mental and spiritual strength,” Folayang says.
“I have improved quite a bit myself, especially with the simple details in technique for takedowns and the ground game. With striking, I am constantly perfecting my accuracy and timing, so I had that time to sharpen them further.
“As much as possible, I won’t let it go to the scorecards. Personally, I want to predict that I’ll win via submission.”
The stakes of this main event also go beyond a World Title in many ways.
First, it will be the latest clash between the two top mixed martial arts gyms in Asia, as Team Lakay meets Evolve for the 10th time. It will also match athletes from Asia’s leading mixed martial arts nations.
Folyang takes pride in representing his team against the collective from Singapore, but he does not take the rivalry too seriously.
However, the chance represent his country on the global stage and inspire his compatriots through martial arts – like his idol Manny Pacquiao has done for boxing – seems to motivate Folayang more than anything.
“It’s huge, especially for those who aspire to become World Champions or martial artists because they could see that there is a stage where they can perform if they keep working on their craft,” he says.
“It’s truly an honor to be an instrumental part of the rise of martial arts in the Philippines.”