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MANILA, Philippines — Right before Zach Lofton hit the court for his PBA debut, Meralco’s injured import, Su Brai moh, gave his replacement a good ribbing: “Ball out.”

Lofton more than obliged.

Firing on all cylinders, Lofton turned in an electric 54-point outing that powered the Bolts to a 125-99 crushing of the NorthPort Batang Pier for solo third in the Commissioner’s Cup yesterday at the PhilSports Arena.

Given extra duties from his initial role as one of Meralco’s imports in the East Asian Super League, Lofton showcased his insane shooting skills and peppered the Batang Pier with nine triples scattered over 37 minutes.

The 6-foot-3 debutant made the most damage in the third, where he dropped 20 in a 43-16 salvo keying the Bolts’ breakaway en route to their third straight win and 5-1 overall and a tie at No. 2 with idle Phoenix.

“Shout out to Su, he went down last game. I want to step in for the team and be the force that he was for the team,” said Lofton of Braimoh, who tore his Achilles in Meralco’s 97- 94 squeaker over NLEX a week ago and joined the team on the bench in crutches in this match.

“We dedicate this game to Su, he’s still part of our family. Su was teasing Zach before the game to ball out and I think that’s what he did,” said Meralco coach Luigi Trillo.

Lofton’s 54 marked the most points for a PBA debutant since Blackwater’s Troy Williams scored 55 in last season’s Governors’ Cup and the second all-time highest in Meralco history next to Allen Durham’s 55 in the 2016 Governors’ Cup.

“We’re blessed that even with Su going down, we have a quality player like Zach,” said Trillo. “Masaya rin ako na bumalik na si Allein Maliksi. We need him, he’s one of our go-to guys.”

Missing their last three games due to a nose injury, a masked Maliksi shot 18 in his comeback gig.

Meralco put an end to the three-game streak of the Batang Pier (5-3) and spoiled the 31-point career-best outing of rookie Fran Yu.

The Bolts stepped on the pedal in the second half and the Batang Pier, feeling the toll from playing a third match in five days, couldn’t keep up anymore.

NorthPort reinforcement Venky Jois returned after sitting out Friday’s 115-101 upset of San Miguel due to hamstring tightness but st ruggled with nine.

Later, Magnolia out-steadied San Miguel Beer, 94-90, to go 7-0 and punch a quarterfinals ticket. T he Beermen fell to 3-3.

NLEX is making a move to get Robert Bolick, who is back in the country after a brief stint in Japan.

The Road Warriors sought to acquire Bolick, whose rights remain with the NorthPort, in a proposal submitted to the PBA. Aside from Bolick, NLEX is also eyeing Kent Salado in exchange for Don Trollano, Ben Adamos, Kris Rosales and its Season 49 second-round pick.

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Eduard Folayang and his teammates are hard at work, polishing their craft, overcoming, sharpening their skills for the next battle. The Landslide Martial Arts Training Center is always busy, save for Sundays when everyone attends church and bonds with family. Folayang was supposed to fight in Qatar on Dec. 3, but it was pushed to March 3, most likely with a different opponent, as yet unknown. The last few years have been turbulent for the former MMA world lightweight champion and his mates, exacerbated by the pandemic.

“One of the challenges I faced that time was I that I couldn’t push myself to get the win,” Folayang told The STAR in an interview supported by G1 Lodge. “It’s only this year that the situation improved and Joshua (Pacio) and I were able to go to the US. I felt refreshed. The level of competition had changed. Coaches and trainers have a different approach to their training. It gives a broader view, particularly for me. I’m in a critical stage. It will never be the way things were.”

Talk of the 39-year-old’s retirement was the result of five successive losses spanning 2020 to 2022. The streak was punctuated by a knockout loss to Edson Barboza a year ago. Parting ways with Team Lakay, Folayang (23 wins, 13 losses) and his fellow world champions struck out on their own. In April, Folayang and Pacio traveled to the US for two months of serious upgrading. The results became clear with his third-round knockout of Amir Khan on Sept. 29.

“There’s a certain confidence you get from training there,” the former Philippine national wushu athlete explains. “They study your opponent very well, analyze you, and come up with a very good game plan. Here (in the Philippines) we sometimes overlook that. We don’t break things down level by level.”

Ignoring calls for him to step away from the cage, Folayang continues to improve, grow, get stronger and better. He believes he still has two to three more years of being the best in his profession.

“We have a saying, only a carabao gets old,” he laughs. “As much as possible, I intend to capitalize on that to get back to contention level. The problem with us here is that once they mention your age, people judge you that you’re already done. It’s a challenge for me to handle that in a way that becomes positive for my career.”

“Only Kuya Eduard will say when he will retire,” echoes stablemate and former MMA world bantamweight champion Kevin Belingon. “I admire his leadership. He gets along well with everyone. He sets an example for all of us.”

At the end of the day, only the warrior himself knows when it is time to quit. Eduard Folayang has nothing to prove, and has blazed the trail for all Filipino mixed martial artists to follow. He continues to live his life and career on his terms. And that deserves our respect.

This writer would like to thank G1 Lodge Session Road for helping to make this interview possible.

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