Traffic was at a standstill last Friday.
People trooped to the busy streets of Session Road and Magsaysay Avenue in Baguio City for a homecoming parade. At the center of it all were two cousins who dared to dream — a mixed martial arts world champion and a wushu world champion: ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard Folayang and the first Filipina wushu world champion Divine Wally.
“Nagulat ako. Nag-o-officiate ako sa Batang Pinoy nung tinawagan nila ako tungkol dito,” Wally said.
“Siyempre nabigla ako. Di ko ine-expect na ganun karaming tao yung magaabang sa amin. Naramdaman ko na naging part sila ng journey ko para makuha yung belt and, of course, I am so happy na nakikita na inaabangan nila ako, not only for my own but for them to take part on the belt,” Folayang added.
“Hindi ko ine-expect na ganito pupuntahan ng MMA, I’m so happy. Sana mas lalaki pa siya, di lang dito sa Baguio pero sa buong Pilipinas.”
For two sports that are just reaching a more mainstream fanbase, a parade — let alone a keynote address by the town’s mayor — was just a dream.
And the dream started with just trying to get a scholarship.
“Yung Wushu naman napakagandang opportunity din sa kanila, na if they do good, they can get scholarships through Universities.”
It has been well-documented that Folayang entered the sport out of necessity. In the region, wushu is a martial art, and so colleges and universities in the area have allotments for athletic scholarships for that sport.
After garnering multiple regional championships in the sport, Folayang then transitioned into mixed martial arts. But the discipline instilled by the sport on her cousin inspired Wally to try it out for herself.
“Sport ko nung high school boxing,” reflected Wally, who is enrolled as a BS Education student at the University of the Cordilleras. “Nung bata pa kami, nagpupunta kami sa bahay nila kuya Eduard at nakikita namin siya mag-train.
“Tinitingala namin si kuya kaya nag-wushu kami.”
“Bali nung nag-wuwushu pa ako, kami pa yung mga naunang Philippine team, nakikita na niya kami,” Folayang shared about his cousin. “After that nagdecide siya na gusto niya itry, sabi ko ‘sige i-try mo’ kasi nag amateur boxing siya dati, maganda naman yung transition niya from amateur boxing to wushu.”
However, doubt started to creep in for Wally. Training in Manila away from her family compounded the struggles she had faced in training.
“Nung nagsisimula ako, mahirap kasi malayo yung family ko,” the now 21-year-old said.
“Pero I didn’t give up. I look up to kuya Eduard talaga at na-iinspire ako sa kanya, sa family ko, at sa lahat ng ateleta.”
All the blood, sweat, and tears paid off for the wushu practitioners.
Wally became a world champion in wushu back in November of 2015, then won the continental tiara in September, 2016. Moreover, she is the first Filipina to ever accomplish such a feat. And no one was prouder of her than the Landslide himself.
“Si Divine junior naman yan noon. May time na naging trainer din kami para sa kanya,” he shared.
“She was able to make it world class, alam mo yun, tapos kadugo mo pa? Napakasaya ng pakiramdam na hindi lang ikaw yung umaangat at may mga ibang mga sumusunod sa iyo. Yun yung maganda.”
On the other hand, Folayang did the unthinkable, ending Shinya Aoki’s championship run just over a month ago. The face of Philippine MMA has become the kingpin of ONE Championship’s lightweight division.
However, achieving all these accolades also brings pressure and responsibilities. The two see this, not as a burden, but as a duty.
“Marami pang mga kababayan natin ang mag-ririse up pa,” Folayang stressed. “Hindi lang dito sa atin pero sa ibang regions din sa Pilipinas.”
“It’s my honor but there’s pressure rin,” Wally added. “Kasi may expectations na ang mga tao at family ko pero masaya ako to be the first Filipino to win the world championship.”
And with the general public starting to develop a knowledge of the sport, Folayang and Wally plan to help in the sport’s growth.
“Maganda kasi looking into my background, I’m also a medalist in Wushu, of course napakaganda, a lot of young aspiring fighters can trace and start with Wushu before transitioning into Mixed Martial Arts,” the ONE Lightweight World Champion said.
“E-enjoy ko yung career ko dito at plano ko din magturo,” Wally added.
“Gusto ko ma-share yung experience ko sa wushu xanda sa mga batang gustong matuto.”
Based on the thousands that attended the parade, the two are the leaders that will bring their region’s sport to the next level.