STRIKE HOME|Folayang the face of MMA; indigenous peoples’ champ

NEXT TO ring icon and Philippine senator Manny Pacquiao, the hottest Filipino commodity in the ring today is Baguio City’s Eduard Folayang who dealt Japan’s Shinya Aoki a first-class upset on Friday in Singapore to crown himself the Mixed Martial Art lightweight world champion.

It was a classic case between a world-class striker in Folayang and a superb grappler in Aoki who was riding a seven-win streak.

Determined to leave the ring still the champion, Aoki took the challenger in the first round through a series of clinches and take-downs but failed to clinch a submission as Foloyang defended well.

The second round shaped up like the first but this time Folayang was coming loose and scored with telling strikes to the body and legs.

Again, Aoki took down Folayang early on the third but the challenger deftly wriggled out only to launch a fierce counter-attack with knee and hand strikes that sent Aoki reeling in a corner, forcing the referee to stop the contest.

In 2012 when Folayang fought in Singapore, the late Ram Maxey sent a message to ask how come Folayang spoke good English.

I replied that he was a high school teacher before he decided that the octagon was a more appropriate venue for his incredible MMA skills than the classroom.

In Baguio City, Folayang is part of the pioneering Team Lakay stable of MMA artists who have inspired a new generation of young players to follow in their footsteps.

Until four years ago, the team, grounded on Wushu and boxing, was known more for its striking ability than its ground techniques—a situation taken advantage of by foreign opponents well-versed in wrestling and jujitsu.

Well, I was told that Folayang and company have since then made up for this deficiency by training on ground techniques. Folayang’s win over Aoki showed how well the new champion and his stable mates have since coped with change.

The truth must also be out: Folayang, who comes from the Bontoc tribe of Mt. Province, is the lone indigenous people’s champion in the Philippines.

The ethno-linguistic Bontoc population belongs to a collection of indigenous peoples inhabiting the provinces of Benguet, Mt. Province, Ifugao and Kalinga who are collectively called the Igorots.

These IPs occupy a region that provided Manila its electricity through its dams, temperate vegetables, and mineral resources like gold, copper and silver.

It is a label these ethno-linguistic groups are proud off. Consequently, it is accepted as a collective reference to the indigenous populations of the people of the Cordillera administrative region collectively.

The label is not to be confused with its derisive usage by the uninformed TV or movie personality who would mistake aboriginals as Igorots.

And considering that Miss International Kylie Fausto Versoza was born in Baguio City, many in that city are proud to claim her as an Igorot or as one of their own, an IP herself.

Like Folayang, she was also a teacher and is a volunteer of the Natasha Goulbourn Fundation that sought to educate people about depression and suicide.

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