Eduard Folayang returns to the octagon ring tomorrow to conclude a trilogy with fellow former lightweight champion Shinya Aoki and for him to bounce back from a string of losses that will place him among the contenders for the crown.
The 37-year old former Southeast Asian Games wushu triple gold medalist is all pumped up for the conclusion of his trilogy against the Japanese legend whom he beat in their first encounter with the Baguio based fighter wresting the belt.
The second fight that happened three years later saw Aoki winning in the first round by submitting Folayang with a triangle choke.
But Folayang has since been in a roller coaster ride, that while he regained the lightweight crown, he lost it to then bantamweight king Martin Nguyen and has recently lost four of his last five outings.
Aoki, on the other hand, has won his last three fights after losing the belt to Christian Lee in 2019.
The conclusion of the trilogy was made possible when Folayang’s supposed opponent, former UFC-fighter Yoshihiro Akiyama withdrew due to ligament and bicep tear. Aoki was supposed to face Sage Northcutt but the American was pulled out due to lingering Covid-19 symptoms.
In facing the now fourth ranked Aoki, Folayang said: “It’s always an honor to share the cage with legends. That in itself has added a lot of motivation for me to succeed. This is one of the most important bouts of my career, so I’m really focused on claiming the victory. I know the fans will always be behind me no matter what, and for that, I am very grateful. I will do my best to get my hands raised when all is said and done.
Folayang admitted that facing Aoki for a third fight came as a surprise.
“I didn’t expect any changes, my mind was set on Akiyama. But then, this is sport, we have to be flexible, anytime any changes” Folayang told RNG Luzon in an interview.
He added in mixed English and Filipino: “There is the excitement, thought there is a problem of time but then as a fighter, we need to face whatever fears that we have to push forward, to pursue what you want in life.
He noted that he and Aoki are on a different stage now. “Shinya is on a winning streak and I’m on a losing streak, so it’s a big opportunity to bounce back.”
He added that though it is not a championship match “but then it is one of the more important fight in my career, and this is a rubber match so I have to give my best with the help of the Almighty.”