Christian Jacinto/SI PH
10 December 2016

The traffic on the usually busy streets of Session Road and Magsaysay Avenue froze as Eduard Folayang and his cousin, Divine Wally, drove around the heart of Baguio, gamely waving to the adoring people who stopped what they were doing just to get a glimpse of their new heroes. 

The pair didn’t expect this type of reception, especially during the days when they were just beginning to train Wushu Xanda, a sport that the Benguet region has embraced as their own through the past couple of decades. 

All the cousins wanted to do was to learn the sport while getting the opportunity to go to college through a Wushu scholarship.  A couple of years of hardwork later, they have now become the new faces of the most popular discipline in the region and, in Folayang's case, in mixed martial arts as well.

For Folayang, who recently won the ONE Championship world lightweight crown last November against Japanese MMA legend Shinya Aoki, it never crossed his mind that one day he was going to be received in this place as a hero. 

"Of course I was shocked. I didn't expect to see so many people waiting for us," Folayang said in Filipino after the city-sponsored victory parade last Friday. 

"I really felt like they've been part of my journey in getting that belt and of course I'm just so happy to see that they're waiting for me, not only for my own but for them to take part of this championship as well," Folayang added.  

While Folayang made a name for himself through MMA, dominating the ranks from URCC to Martial Combat and now in ONE Championship, his first cousin in Wally threaded her own path - competing in various international Wushu tournaments all over the world, and ruling it. 

Wally, 21, became the first female Wushu athlete to win a gold medal in the Wushu World Championship when she won it last year in Jakarta before adding two more gold medals after she plucked gold in the 9th Asian Wushu Championships in Taiwan and another one in the Sanda World Cup in China last November. 

Like her cousin, she too was left speechless by the city's reception. 

"I was surprised. I was officiating for Batang Pinoy then I receivd a message that there was gonna be a victory party," said Wally, who like Folayang is taking BS Education in the University of the Cordilleras. 

"It is my honor but there's a lot of pressure. Of course there are expectations from the people and my family but I'm very happy to be the first Filipina to win the World Championship," she added. 

Wushu runs in the bloodline

The sport of Wushu apparently runs in the blood of the cousins. 

Folayang, 11 years senior of Wally, was the main reason why his cousin decided to jump into the sport.  

A former amateur boxer, Wally would come to her Folayang's house and see him - then a national athlete and far from the "Landslide" that we all know today - train with coach Mark Sangiao who, to no surprise of anyone, is also their distant relative. 

Wushu then caught the interest of the young Wally and with the type of backing she had, having Folayang and Sangiao at her disposal, she made sure not to waste the opportunity given to her. 

"When I was in high school, my sport was boxing. We were young and we would go into the house of kuya Eduard and we would see him train. I idolized him. He was the one to introduce the sport to me," Wally continued in Filipino. 

"He asked me if I wanted to get a scholarship and then he told me to train Wushu. Fortunately I excelled, I got discovered for Batang Pinoy, became a national athlete and then competed in international competitions," she added. 

Wally can only remember those sleepless nights in Manila where she would usually train, 250 kilometers away from her family, just to make her dream work. 

There was a time where she thought of caving into the pressure and the difficulty, but Folayang served as an inspiration for her in carving her name into the sport.  

"When I was starting it was very hard. You're away from your family, you're getting homesick," Wally said. 

"But of course I didn't give up. I looked up to kuya Eduard and I was just inspired by him, inspired by my family and all the other athletes," she added.

Folayang vividly remembers the time when a young Wally came up and asked that she be given the chance to train with them. 

The 32-year-old world champion couldn't be any prouder of what his cousin has achieved. 

"I'm just so happy for her. Divine was our junior back then. There was a time that we became her trainers and now she became world class. Knowing that she's in the same bloodline, I'm just so proud of her," Folayang continued while adding, “If she's gonna transititon to mixed martial arts, I do believe that she already has the foundation to make it big there."

A responsibility for them, an opportunity for the sport

Winning accolades left and right, the cousins know that they have an even bigger responsibility on their shoulders. 

Folayang isn't a national athlete anymore, he's become not only the face of Philippine MMA but of the biggest MMA organization in Asia as well. That kind of pressure of defending that title for the country obviously isn't for everyone. 

But for Folayang, he just looks at his new found responsibility as an inspiration to every young upstart in Wushu, and he has no plans of stopping now. 

"Looking into my background, I'm also a medallist in Wushu. It's nice cause it could motivate the young aspiring fighters. They can trace my background and start with Wushu before transitioning into Mixed Martial Arts," Folayang said. 

"I didn't expect that the sport (MMA and Wushu) would become this big. I'm just happy, I hope it continues to grow not only in Baguio but for the whole Philippines as well," he added. 

Wally for her part is hell bent on bringing more glories to the country as she believes that she has a long way to go with the sport.

However, she reiterated that she will always give back to the sport and focus on teaching young kids who also wants to thread their ways in Wushu. 

"I'll just enjoy my career and I plan to teach. Of course I will be sharing my knowledge and skills to the kids who would want to learn Wusuh Xanda," she said. 

More so than the titles, more so than the accolades, the parades and the amazing welcomes, the most satisfying feeling for Folayang is seeing both MMA and Wushu  grow before his very eyes. 

The face of Philippine MMA hopes that this just the beginning of what could be a Wushu takeover worldwide. 

"What makes me really happy is the fact that I'm not the only one who's rising up the ranks, there are also a lot of people behind me who are rising," Folayang said. 

"That's what makes this beautiful. There are a lot of Filipinos who are set to rise too. Not only in Baguio but in the whole Philippines as well."