ONE CHAMPIONSHIP had a banner 2016 with outstanding fighters having a spectacular year with exciting victories. But one fighter stood tall above them all to win the Fighter of the Year Award. His name is Eduard “Landslide” Folayang.
Is there anyone who had a better year in 2016 than Folayang? The Filipino lightweight veteran has come full circle as a mixed martial artist, completing his journey from standout contender to realizing his dream of becoming MMA world champion.
The 33-year-old former school teacher appeared thrice inside the ONE Championship cage in 2016, beginning with a comprehensive wrestling performance against Japanese star Tetsuya Yamada in January. It was an impressive victory for Folayang, who showed the world what he had worked on the years prior when he spent time shuffling back between the Philippines and the United States to improve his wrestling game.
Then in August, Folayang overcame the incredibly durable Australian warrior Adrian Pang. Pang stepped into the cage against Folayang and performed as advertised, catching Folayang’s best shots right on the chin, not even flinching the entire way through despite being knocked down repeatedly.
Folayang hit Pang with every strike in his arsenal, but it still wasn’t able to deter the forward-moving Australian. That’s more of a testament to Pang’s overall toughness than Folayang’s finishing ability. Regardless, Folayang was able to pull away for the comprehensive unanimous decision victory which was well-earned.
It all came to a satisfying conclusion when last November in Singapore, Folayang took the challenge to compete for the ONE Lightweight World Championship held by Japanese MMA legend Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki.
Folayang negated Aoki’s grappling prowess to get the TKO victory in spectacular fashion via flying knee and ground strikes.
Deserving of runner-up honors for the award are Angela “Unstoppable” Lee, Marat “Cobra” Gafurov, Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes and Ev “E.T.” Ting.
Twenty-year-old Lee fought twice in ONE Championship this year, and they were two of the toughest fights in her young career.
This past February, Lee took on American Rebecca Heintzman. Although Heintzman’s wrestling ability gave her a tough challenge, Lee’s grappling was on point that night. The result was a second round submission via neck crank, Lee’s fifth straight.
Then came May, fighting in front of her adoptive hometown crowd of Singapore, Lee challenged Japanese MMA veteran Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship.
It was a back-and-forth title fight for the ages, and one that was recently named ONE’s Fight of the Year. It was raw talent versus experience, and in the end, not a single person was left in their seat.
Confetti rained down to the applause of a packed Singapore Indoor Stadium crowd. The sight was truly mesmerizing as Lee was crowned ONE’s first women’s champion.
Gafurov appeared in two tough title defenses in 2016.
In May, Gafurov took on Japanese fight veteran Kazunori Yokota. Yokota had over 30 professional fights on his resume with an incredible 13-fight, five-year win streak. The Russian fighter was too strong and too intelligent for the Japanese veteran. Gafurov needed slightly less than two rounds to dispatch Yokota.
Gafurov was just as dominant in his second title defense as he submitted Narantungalag Jadambaa in the first round with a rear naked choke.
Since making his ONE Championship promotional debut in 2012, Fernandes has remained unbeaten in nearly six years. The ONE Bantamweight World Champion Fernandes is the promotion’s most dominant champion.
In 2016 Fernandes beat Kevin Belingon and then barely survived the challenge of Australia’s Reece “Lightning” McLaren to retain his title. Fernandes easily submitted Belingon but had to endure five grueling rounds against McLaren before extracting a hard-earned decision.
The only non-champion on this list is Malaysia’s Ting who emerged victorious over two of the best fighters in his weight class.
The 27-year-old Malaysian-Kiwi sensation from Auckland, New Zealand, has made Kuala Lumpur his fighting home, building a strong case in the past 12 months to be next in line to face either ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat Gafurov, or newly crowned ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard Folayang.
Last January, Ting took on one of the Philippines’ top fighters in “The Natural” Eric Kelly. Fighting in front of his hometown crowd in Kuala Lumpur, Ting put together a fine performance against Kelly, outlasting the Filipino warrior to win by guillotine choke submission two minutes into the third and final round.
In September, Ting made the decision to try his hand one weight class above where he currently competes. Waiting for him at lightweight was the reinvented Rob “Warrior of God” Lisita, who remained as dangerous as ever. Ting did enough to get his hand raised, and proved that he has the heart of a champion to go along with his skills.
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