FILE – Former lightweight champion Eduard Folayang. INQUIRER PHOTO/TRISTAN TAMAYO

MANILA, Philippines — Eduard Folayang may have fallen off the lightweight rankings but ONE Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong still has high hopes for the former division king.

Sityodtong said that Folayang (22-9) still has the fire within him and is nowhere near retirement despite his age and mileage.

“I think Eduard is a phenomenal athlete, obviously a world champion and you know wins and losses happen for every athlete,” said Sityodtong in a virtual press conference Friday. “For me, when I look at Eduard and talk to him I see that he’s hungrier than ever, he’s always improving his skillset so I think there’s many times in the last few years where Eduard Folayang was written of by some of the haters but the truth is he’s still very fresh and very strong and very athletic and very intelligent.”

Folayang once dominated the lightweight division and had two reigns from 2016 to 2019.

He first captured the title when he knocked out Japanese legend Shinya Aoki on Nov. 10, 2017 but he lost the belt to Martin Nguyen in his second defense just a day before Folayang’s anniversary with the championship.

The Team Lakay veteran then had another run with the championship when he put on a striking clinic against Singapore’s Amir Khan on Nov. 23, 2018 but lost it again to Aoki four months later.

The 36-year-old Folayang then struggled to get back to his once-dominant self losing two of his next three fights.

Standing between Folayang and his dream of getting back to the title picture is grappling specialist Antonio Caruso (7-1).

Sityodtong said that Folayang’s status in the division will rely upon his performance against Caruso and a win could very well see the former champion slowly climb back to the lightweight rankings.

“He’s still up there in my opinion. He might not be in the official rankings but he is still up there. If he has a good performance against Antonio Caruso — this is a typical story about young lion versus the grizzled lion who’s been the leader of the pack for so long,” said Sityodtong.

“Now obviously, If he losses to a young lion then we can start talking about a different path. Eduard has told me he’s ready to go and he’s in better shape than ever. And it’s gonna be a really fun fight… on any given night, I think Eduard can beat any lightweight in the world, on any given night.”

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