In a press conference last July, ONE Fighting Championship (ONE FC) CEO Victor Cui touted Filipino lightweight Eduard ‘Landslide’ Folayang as ‘the Manny Pacquiao of MMA’. And while it’s natural to make a comparison of the two based on their nationalities, it seemed a bit of a stretch to compare the rising MMA prospect to boxing’s longtime pound-for-pound king.
Weeks later, though, Cui still stands by his bold statement.
“Does Eduard have the right ingredients to become the next world champion? Yes,” declared the ONE FC boss in an interview with InterAKTV.
Folayang, who is set to compete against Felipe Enomoto at the ONE FC fight card at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum Friday, is a decorated athlete in the sport of Wushu, with silver and bronze medals in the Asian Games and multiple gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games. He’s also the URCC welterweight champion, and held a 3-0 record in Singapore-based Martial Combat against three different foreign foes before debuting in ONE FC, where he is currently 1-1, last September.
And the combination of Folayang’s background in Wushu, his penchant for hard work and a heart of a champion has Cui convinced that he’s looking at something special.
“The reason why he’s successful is that he didn’t just pick it up yesterday. It’s because he’s a gold medalist Wushu sanshou champion. The foundation is there,” said Cui. “And to make that logic gap from the foundation of martial arts to mixed martial arts is a small jump.”
“Who can stand toe-to-toe with a gold medalist Wushu champion who already kicked the ass of everybody else in Asia?”
Cui also raved about the work ethic of Folayang, who fights out of the famed Team Lakay camp in Baguio. But he is most impressed with the heart of Folayang, who never backs down in a fight, taking the fight to his opponents even when he’s hurt like in his ONE FC fight against Filipino compatriot Ole Laursen, a three-round war that ended in a tough split decision loss for Folayang.
“Eduard has one of the biggest hearts of a fighter I’ve ever seen,” said Cui. “You can’t teach that, that comes from the heart, that doesn’t come from lifting weights. You are that or you’re not. Eduard’s got the heart of a champion.”
But just because Cui is high on the potential career arc of Folayang, doesn’t mean he’s blind to the fighter’s shortcomings.
“Does Eduard have weaknesses? Absolutely,” Cui said. “He has to develop his ground game which, like most Asian fighters, is underdeveloped. We don’t have Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belts other than Alvin Aguilar in Manila to train with. There’s just a lack of talent right now, a lack of training partners. And he’s got to develop that to turn him into an all-around athlete.”
“But that’s no different from the American NCAA wrestling champion with a fantastic ground game but doesn’t know how to kick.”
He added that most MMA prospects come into the sport with incomplete skillsets, and it takes time before they develop the well-rounded MMA game necessary to compete on the highest levels of the sport. But he certainly feels reaching those levels could be just a matter of time for Folayang.
“You gotta give these things time,” he said. “It just takes that long to master the skillset that you need to be an all-around fighter.”
Bright future for Asian, Filipino MMA
Cui isn’t just high on Folayang and his potential, though. He feels that the Philippines as a whole could find a lot of success in the sport of MMA, much like it had in boxing.
“I think that in the history of sports, particularly in combat sports, if you are of a poor nation, the chances are greater that you will produce a world champion,” he said.
“South America, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines in boxing – it’s a formula because they need it to escape. If you are Singaporean, middle-class family, there’s nothing to escape from. Nobody’s hungry. Why go get punched in the head when your parents are going to put you through university?”
He believes that the country’s economic situation, added to the Western influence in the Philippines where trends from the US, a country where MMA has become one of the most popular sports, impact the country much earlier than other Asian countries, could put the nation in a unique opportunity to find success in the sport.
He also added that Filipino fighters, and Asian fighters in general, can go very far in the sport without having to move their camps outside of Asia.
“It is not by coincidence that the best fighters from North America are coming to Asia to train,” he said. “They go here to pick up their standup, go to Thailand and work on their Muay Thai.”
He points to former UFC champion Rich Franklin, who trained at the Evolve MMA camp in Singapore in preparation for a fight against Cung Le, a matchup that was previously cancelled and rescheduled for November.
“Rich Franklin came out here because he wanted specifically to find somebody that fought like a Sanda fighter, a Wushu fighter with unusual kind of kicks. He wanted to fight somebody who could do spinning back kicks, that kind of stuff. It’s hard to find that in the States.”
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