Eduard Folayang and the rest of Lions Nation MMA are throwing their unequivocal support behind Marlon Tapales in his quest to make history as the first Filipino boxer to be crowned as an undisputed world champion.
Tapales is set to stake his WBA and IBF super bantamweight titles against Naoya Inoue, the unbeaten Japanese pugilist holding the WBC and WBO versions of the belt, in a unification contest on December 26.
The 12-round showdown is scheduled to happen at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan, giving Inoue the hometown advantage.
The odds are stacked against the 31-year-old southpaw from Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte as he faces Inoue, a pound-for-pound elite with an unblemished 25-0 record to go along with 22 knockouts.
However, the pessimistic outlook hasn’t deterred Folayang and his teammates from Lions Nation MMA.
In a gesture of solidarity, Folayang, along with Joshua Pacio, Jeremy Pacatiw, and Aaron Posawen, paid a visit to the Shape-Up Boxing Gym in Baguio City on Monday, November 20.
It was at this facility that Tapales chose to complete the final stages of his training before heading to Tokyo this coming December.
Folayang understands the value of rising to the occasion. He vividly recalls his upset win over Japanese rival Shinya Aoki in November 2016, a victory that saw him capture the ONE lightweight championship.
Drawing inspiration from his triumphs, “Landslide” lends Tapales the belief that underdog status is merely a label imposed by statistical analysis.
“I was in the same situation seven years ago. I know very well what he goes through as an athlete, especially when you are considered an underdog. It is inevitable to feel pressure, but at the same time, you can also get motivation from it,” Folayang told Tiebreaker Times.
“It’s all about perspective, especially when you know what’s at stake in the fight.”
Folayang emphasizes that in whatever combat sport it may be, the outcome ultimately boils down to the will to win.
“It is fair to use stats and past performances to weigh the chances of a fighter in a specific bout. But that’s where training comes in because it addresses all of that for the athlete to develop and correct the lapses. That is usually not seen by many,” he said.
Like Folayang, Pacio also draws parallels from his encounters with Japanese mixed martial artists.
Going through the likes of Yoshitaka Naito and Yosuke Saruta, Pacio ascended to the pinnacle of success, securing two reigns as the ONE strawweight champion.
“I also fought against Japanese champions before, but I proved that it’s doable. It’s not possible to rise above the odds. On paper, you may be the underdog. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of winning,” Pacio stated.
“Inside the ring or in the cage, it’s 50-50.”
Folayang and Pacio may be plying their trade in a different sport, but both men agree that Tapales could replicate the same feat in his clash with Inoue.
“In combat sports, all it takes is one punch,” Folayang quipped.
“I agree,” Pacio added.