Just a few weeks ago, former ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang was preparing for an entirely different opponent than the man who will stand across the Circle from him this Thursday, 29 April, at “ONE on TNT IV.”
Folayang was supposed to take on Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama, but the Japanese-Korean star pulled out of the contest due to injury.
Now, “Landslide” will face his longtime rival and #4-ranked lightweight contender Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki, whose original opponent – “Super” Sage Northcutt – also had to withdraw from their scheduled bout.
“I did expect a trilogy [with Aoki], but I didn’t expect it to happen this early. Aoki has been on a roll as of late while I admit that I am in the middle of a skid, so while I hoped for this to happen, I didn’t expect it to happen this early,” Folayang said.
“When they said Akiyama was out, but it was Aoki who stepped in, of course, I got excited. This is a very important fight for my career, knowing where Aoki is right now in the division. If I could beat him, not only will I win the trilogy, but it could catapult me to another run for the World Title.”
Preparing for the Japanese mixed martial arts icon, however, hasn’t been easy. Aoki will bring a different skill set to the Circle than Akiyama, and it’s been playing on Folayang’s mind.
“To be honest, the adjustment is tough. For the longest time, we had our eyes set on Akiyama, and all of a sudden, we had to focus on Aoki’s expertise, which is very different from what Akiyama brings to the table,” Folayang said.
“In Akiyama, we were expecting someone with a judo base who is willing to stand and trade with you. That all changes with Aoki, who’s a pure grappler in every sense of the word. It’s a really big shift for us, but we’re doing well so far.”
If Folayang can come out of the trilogy on top, he could possibly set himself up for another run at the ONE Lightweight World Title. After all, he originally knocked out Aoki to claim the gold back in November 2016, and on Thursday, he could produce another highlight-reel victory to break into the World Title picture.
But more importantly – and according to the Filipino – a win would further cement his status as one of Asia’s true icons of the sport.
“This means a lot. Winning a trilogy against a legend of the sport, someone who’s adored by many people will be a big thing for my legacy,” Folayang said.
“Aside from that, given that Shinya is still in the top five of the division, it will also silence the critics and hopefully push me to another run for the World Title.”
Catch all the action at “ONE on TNT IV” this Thursday on the ONE Super App at 8:30 a.m.
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