In a battle between a redemption seeker and a catalyst both on the hunt to make their mark in martial arts, a riveting clash at ONE: Conquest of Champions awaits Manila this coming Friday

By Klyde Manansala

Eduard “The Landslide” Folayang and Amir Khan are both inside an escape room looking for a way out to meet their personal ambitions: One wants to prove he’s got a lot of gas left in the tank, while the other hungers to make a name in his young career.

A little over a year ago, Folayang—the former reigning and defending lightweight world champion—fell apart right before the eyes of his fellow Filipinos inside the Mall of Asia Arena when reigning One featherweight world champion Martin Nguyen connected with a brisk right hand.

“After the loss, I looked around and the whole stadium was very silent,” The Team Lakay star said in a promotional video posted by One Championship.

Everyone could say it was the turning point of Folayang’s career. After the humiliating loss, the Baguio native didn’t intend to stay on the ground. Just this year, Folayang took home two huge victories over Russian grappling specialists Kharun Atlangeriev and Aziz Pahrudinov to climb back up the lightweight ranks.

“Last year, things didn’t go as expected. I lost the title. But this year is a new chapter. I worked extremely hard to come back here for another opportunity at the belt

Folayang is on the verge of picking himself up from where he left off as he aims to become the unprecedented two-time lightweight world champion and, most importantly, to redeem himself in front of his hometown in the very same cage where he relinquished the belt.

“Last year, things didn’t go as expected. I lost the title. But this year is a new chapter. I worked extremely hard to come back here for another opportunity at the belt. I’ve been inspired by my teammates, my coach, and all the fans. This is the biggest bout of my career and I am excited to give the best performance of my life,” says Folayang.

Eduard Folayang addresses the media yesterday at the Grand Ballroom, City of Dreams Manila

That was then and this is now—it’s the mantra of Folayang at the very moment. But as good as he’s ever been, he could be trailing an unfamiliar route facing a young knockout specialist in Amir Khan.

The 24-year-old Singaporean has been on a tear lately. His win against Folayang’s teammate Honario “The Rock” Banario was proof of his superstar potential. Khan is notorious for his heavy fists and powerful kicks, but he pulled a different trick out of his bag when he submitted Banario to a rear-naked choke at the 4:34 mark of the first round to earn the lightweight world title shot against Folayang.

Khan currently holds the record for the most wins in One history and he has the chance to extend that to 12 with a victory on Friday. His wide array of skills and unpredictable game play is what he believes would be his biggest edge against a veteran like Folayang.

“Winning that title means everything to me. Me and my coach, we have a solid game plan for this fight. The odds may be stacked against me. I’m fighting the hometown hero, but I won’t let it affect my performance,” says Khan

“I’ve worked extremely hard on my game since the beginning of my career and I am 100 percent confident of becoming world champion,” Khan says.

“The thing is, he does not know what I’m going to do. I might strike him, I might take him down. I’m going to mix it up. This round I might put pressure on for the takedowns, the next round I might work more on my boxing.”

Even Folayang himself is receptive to the idea that Banario was oddly complacent against his young foe.

“‘Yung pagkakamali ‘nung teammate ko last time, na-overconfident naman. Hindi ko tine-take for granted ‘yung strength niya and kung ano ‘yung magiging game plan niya sa akin,” says Folayang. “He wants me on my back but I will not give it to him.”

Khan’s confidence at such a young age is on a different level. Though he already has a resume that speaks volumes, his mentor Eduardo Pamploma has been instrumental to his development inside the cage.

The Lightweight Title belt displayed at the Grand Ballroom, City of Dreams Manila

For years, Evolve—Khan’s team—didn’t really had a legitimate coach to help them blossom. Prior to sending Banario back down to earth, Pamploma took over the helm and injected elements that made Khan an even more dangerous fighter: confidence and the ability to live in the moment.

“He’s (Pamploma) very tough. He brings a lot of experience to the team and he brings everyone together. He just brings the best out of me.”

“Winning that title means everything to me. Me and my coach, we have a solid game plan for this fight. The odds may be stacked against me. I’m fighting the hometown hero, but I won’t let it affect my performance,” says Khan.

Both are looking to leave a mark in the history of MMA fighting. Both are willing to give everything on the line. Khan has the opportunity to become Singapore’s first homegrown MMA world champion, but he can only do it at the expense of the Filipino martial arts hero and former lightweight champ Folayang who also has his own quest—to redeem himself in front of his countrymen.

Amir Khan will clash with Eduard Folayang for the vacant ONE Lightweight World Championship at ONE: CONQUEST OF CHAMPIONS on Friday, November 23rd inside the Mall of Asia Arena.