Eduard Folayang: fighting for Pinoy MMA pride in The One FC.

Eduard Folayang. Image copyright Bob Guerrero.

Eduard "Landslide" Folayang is a strong man, with a chiseled, muscular physique that is capable of tossing around men twice his size. And yet for him the game of Chess is a perfect analogy for Mixed Martial Arts.

"Kagaya ng Chess, ang aim mo is kung papaano i-mate ang kalaban mo, so gagamitin mo yung nasa sa yo. Kung ang skill mo ay punching, kicking or wrestling, kailangan isipin mo kung papaano gagamitin mo yan para matalo kalaban mo. Tignan mo rin ang strategy; kung saan siya malakas o mahina. I-fit mo strategy mo sa kanya. Mahirap kung may strategy ka na di angkop sa kanya at baka matalo ka."

("Like Chess, your aim is to mate your opponent so you will use what you have. If your skill is punching, kicking, or wrestling, you have to think how to use them to beat your opponent. Look at the strategy, where your opponent is strong or weak. Fit your strategy according to him. If you use a strategy that isn't right for him you might lose.")

This Friday, Folayang will stake his 11-2 record and attempt to checkmate Peruvian-Swiss Felipe Enomoto (6-4-1) in a blood-and-guts battle at The One FC: Pride of A Nation MMA fight card. For sure the Baguio native will play with the white pieces, since he will have a huge Filipino crowd cheering his every move at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The lightweight (155 pound) fighter has already won SEA Games gold and Asian Games silver in Wushu. He'd like nothing better than to win in front of friends and family. He knows it won't be easy.

Folayang's last ONE FC fight was a controversial split decision loss to Fil-Dane kickboxer Ole Laursen in Kuala Lumpur. Earlier in the ONE FC season, Enomoto stopped Laursen with a rear naked choke submission in Jakarta, Indonesia.

"Yung tumalo sa tumalo sa akin kelangan talunin ko din" asserts Folayang. (I have to beat the guy who beat the guy who beat me.")

Eduard is dressed in jeans and a plain black shirt for our interview in the Peninsula Manila. He is just the way Pinoys like our sports heroes, humble and soft spoken. But his mountainous biceps and powerful jaw betray the fighter's occupation.

Friday's clash will be another challenge in a life that has seen him beat the odds over and over again.

Folayang was born in 1984 in Baguio to Peter Folayang, a laborer, and his wife Mercedes. Peter made a living assembling the riprap barriers that guard against landslides in the city of Pines. In spite of his humble occupation, Peter and Mercedes have sent all four of their kids to college. Eduard counts a Civil Engineer, a Nurse, and an Accountant among his siblings.

Eduard had an idyllic childhood in St. Joseph's Village in the Navy camp. Afternoons were spent with the local kids squaring off in Kinugtaran, a game similar to Taekwondo, and Ginabu, or Igorot wrestling. These games provided the genesis of his fighting career.

While in the Baguio City National High School Rizal Annex Eduard dabbled in many sports like Baseball, Chess, and Sepak Takraw, where he represented the province in the Palarong Pambansa, or National Games. But it was in martial arts where Folayang found his calling.

Folayang started with kickboxing but switched to the Chinese martial art of Wushu under the tutelage of Michael Humiding, a national team player and coach.

Folayang grabbed a bronze in the 2002 Asian Games in Wushu and a silver in 2006 games in Doha. Last year he won a gold for the Philippines in the SEA Games Wushu competition.

Eduard graduated college with an education degree from the University of the Cordilleras. He taught briefly but the lure of the professional mixed martial arts world was impossible for him to ignore.

He made his MMA debut in 2007, TKO-ing welterweight champ Allan Co in a Universal Reality Combat Challenge title bout.

Since then Folayang has competed in different events all over Asia, stockpiling an impressive 11-2 slate, with five knockouts, two submissions, and four decision victories. He has only been knocked out once.

One of his best wins was against South African Muay Thai specialist Vuyisilie Colossa two years ago in Singapore. Multiple takedowns in the first two rounds won it for Folayang. Colossa dominated in the third round but Folayang was able to use his strength and elusiveness to free himself from Colossa's grip.

After the unanimous decision was announced the South African dropped to his knees to pay tribute to his conqueror. Eduard dropped down and crouched right in front of him. Moments after they stood up and embraced.

Folayang sees himself as an ambassador for a sport that is fast gaining in popularity.

"I'm doing my best para makilala ang Pinoy MMA." (I'm doing my best to popularize Philippine MMA.) "Making a difference in this sport is a big joy for me."

Naturally Folayang draws inspiration from Manny Pacquiao, who he met in a Bible study once in Baguio. When asked if he'd dare step into the ring with Pacman he laughs and says "sa Boxing, hindi, sa MMA, pwede!" (Boxing no, MMA, yes.)

In the ONE FC press conference a few months ago URCC founder Alvin Aguilar called Folayang "the next Manny Pacquiao."

Since striking is a big part of MMA, Folayang has also trained in the sweet science of Boxing.

"In MMA you need to be well-rounded. You need to open your mind and learn a lot of things. Right now parang akong sanggol na maraming pang kailangang gawin." (I'm like a baby who has a long way to go.)

Folayang is a member of Team Lakay Wushu, spearheaded by Wushu specialist Marquez Sangiao. He counts as his stablemates URCC Pinweight champ Roy Docyogen, URCC Flyweight champ Kevin Belingon, and lightweight champ Honorio Banario. Belingon is also on Friday's card, scheduled to face off against Soo Chul Kim of Korea. Banario is slated to battle another Pinoy, Andrew Benibe in the card's opening matchup.

Yet another Filipino, Eric Kelly, is matched up against veteran American Jens Pulver for Friday's action.

Folayang has immersed himself in training for the fight, with two hours of morning weight training and road work in Baguio's Teacher's Camp. Afternoons are dedicated to grueling sparring, grappling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sessions with Sangiao.

On Sunday mornings Folayang can be found in Baguio Mission Church, a born-again Christian congregation. His faith is a prime mover in his drive to the top.

"Siya ang nag bigay ng ganitong talent, ng ganitong katawan na bagay sa MMA. Ayokong magsayang ang binigay niya sa akin na talent. Ayoko magsettle sa mediocrity." (God gave me this talent, this body that is perfect for MMA. I don't want to waste what He has given me. I don't want to settle for mediocrity.)

Eduard is a member of the Kankana-ey ethnic group in the Igorot family. Kankana-eys have their own distinct language, dress and culture, with elaborate rituals and dances for weddings and funerals.

When asked if Folayang is proud to be a Kankana-ey he says of course he is, but adds one important disclaimer:

"Mas proud ako sa pagiging Pinoy." (I'm even more proud of being a Filipino.)

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The Folayang-Enomoto bout will be the final undercard for Friday's main event, a clash between Brazilian DREAM Bantamweight title-holder Bibiano Fernandes and Australian Gustavo Falciroli. In another of the card's big fights, Belarussian Andrei Arlovski takes on American Tim Sylvia. Three members of Brazil's first family of MMA will also see action, in the form of Rolles, Igor, and Gregor Gracie.

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