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Filipinos continue to blaze a trail at ONE Championship
By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE foothold of Filipino fighters at ONE Championship was further enhanced on Friday night when the number of current world champions from the Philippines in Asia’s largest sports media property increased to five.
Eduard “Landslide” Folayang of Team Lakay reclaimed the world lightweight title he lost last year by dominating Singaporean Amir Khan in winning by unanimous decision the erstwhile vacant world championship while Brandon “The Truth” Vera retained the ONE heavyweight title by stopping Italian challenger Mauro “The Hammer” Cerilli in the opening round by way of knockout at the event dubbed ONE: Conquest of Champions at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The twin victories raised the number of Filipino champions at ONE Championship to five out of 11 divisions, in addition to champions Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio (flyweight), Joshua “The Passion” Pacio (strawweight) and Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon (bantamweight).
Mr. Folayang, 35, dominated the younger Khan, 24, from start to finish, punishing him with a variety of striking combinations featuring spinning heel kicks and sharp elbows. Khan tried his best to counter Folayang’s offense, but appeared a step slower and couldn’t pin down Folayang’s timing. In the end, all three judges saw the bout in favor of the veteran Filipino fighter who improved to 20-6 with the victory.
Filipino-American Vera, 41, meanwhile, made quick work of Italy’s Cerilli, stopping the latter with a well-placed left hook counter to the jaw that turned the lights out on the Italian at the 1:04 mark of the first round. It was a successful return to the cage for Mr. Vera (16-7) after nearly two years of not fighting.
The impressive performances of Messrs. Folayang and Vera did not go unnoticed and was welcomed with much appreciation and awe by the huge crowd that trekked to the Mall of Asia Arena.
“If there was a show stealer last Friday night, definitely, it’s Eduard Folayang. With a shot at history and redemption, Folayang capitalized on the chance to prove that he is not yet done in the sport,” said local fight analyst Nissi Icasiano when asked by BusinessWorld for his thoughts on what transpired on Nov. 23.
“Drawing shades of his vintage form, Eduard did turn back the clock last Friday.
“Like a phoenix, Folayang rose from the rubbles of defeat, proving that there is intrinsic value in every ounce of perseverance. It has often been said that no one can put a good man down, especially more so, if you are Eduard Folayang,” the analyst said.
Mr. Icasiano also gave props to Mr. Vera for not only winning despite the long layoff but more so notching the victory in impressive fashion.
With five world titles at ONE Championship, Mr. Icasiano said it is big testament to the caliber of Filipinos in mixed martial arts, and martial arts in general, at the world stage.
He made special mention of Team Lakay, which champions Folayang, Eustaquio, Pacio and Belingon are members of, for showing the way.
“It really says a lot about the work ethic and dedication of Team Lakay. With Team Lakay at the helm, the Philippines holds the unprecedented record for most title wins in the nascent seven-year history of ONE Championship. In spite of the camp’s limited resources and meager budget, Team Lakay managed to turn its critics into believers,” he said.
“Team Lakay is the flag bearer of the MMA scene in the country. I just hope that other members of the growing Philippine MMA community will follow suit. We haven’t seen that yet,” Mr. Icasiano added.
Following their latest conquests, Mr. Icasiano said he does not see Messrs. Folayang and Vera slowing down anytime soon.
“For Folayang, it’s going to be interesting in the coming weeks. Shinya Aoki is the official No. 1 contender for the lightweight crown. Eddie Alvarez will be part of the World Grand Prix. A lot of great options for the celebrated Filipino champion, and I don’t think that he is going to wait for a long time. We will see him back in action soon,” he said.
“For Brandon Vera, he needs a real opponent to validate ONE Championship’s heavyweight division and his position as champion. ONE Championship should explore the real free agent market for Brandon Vera’s next foe. There are a lot of heavyweight talents out there,” Mr. Icasiano added.
Other Filipino winners at Conquest of Champions were lightweight Honorio Banario over Rahul Raju of India by unanimous decision and strawweight Jeremy Miado by second-round technical knockout over Peng Xue Wen of China.