Robin “The Ilonggo” Catalan (6-2) may not have gotten the best start in ONE Championship, but after snagging his first promotional win last April, he is hungry for more.
On Friday, 18 August, the 28-year-old will get the opportunity to take a huge step forward in his career, as he is scheduled to clash with Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke (7-2) at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS. The event takes place at the Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Although Catalan is a striker by nature, his opponent is a living legend in the “art of eight limbs.” The 38-year-old is a veteran of over 300 Muay Thai bouts, a three-time Lumpinee World Champion, and has beautifully transitioned his skills to the cage, where he became the inaugural ONE Strawweight World Champion.
“I know he is much more experienced than me, and I look up to that,” the Iloilo City, Philippines native admits. “I also admire his striking skills. It is one of the things we are cautious about.”
Catalan, an accomplished wushu practitioner and IFMA World Muay Thai Champion, made the switch to cage competition in 2012, and decisively won five of his first six matches.
That led him to Asia’s largest global platform for martial arts, where he made his ONE debut against BJJ black belt Alex “Little Rock” Silva at ONE: UNION OF WARRIORS in March 2016. Despite battering the Brazilian in the opening minutes of the contest, Silva scored on a takedown, and submitted Catalan via arm-triangle choke with 35 seconds left in the first round.
Following the defeat, “The Ilonggo” suffered a knee injury that kept him out of action, forcing him to turn down some high-profile bouts. Even though he eventually recovered, he would soon be sidelined even longer. “I got injured again in October,” he continues. “My ribs were fractured while sparring, and caused me to miss three more months of training.”
After 13 months away from the cage, Catalan was fully healed, and returned to the cage. This past April, at ONE: KINGS OF DESTINY, he had the chance to make a successful return when he met fellow countryman Jeremy “The Jaguar” Miado.
“It was a bit of a challenge for me, because I became spent in the first round,” he confesses. “I hesitated to go toe-to-toe with his striking, because I was short of breath.”
Catalan then turned to his wrestling, and controlled his opponent on the ground for the rest of the match, which led to a split decision win. Even in victory, he learned a valuable lesson. “I plan to improve my jiu-jitsu and stamina, because that is the most important thing in a match.”
Catalan may flash that improved grappling and gas tank against Amnuaysirichoke at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS. After all, he will need to sharpen all of his tools in order to get the victory against a living legend, especially when considering the icon’s relentless desire to get back into the title picture.
“Kru Rong,” as he is affectionately known as by his students at Evolve MMA, debuted for ONE Championship in January 2014 following a storied career in Muay Thai. He subsequently won his first six matches and captured the inaugural strawweight belt.
Following his title defeat to Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito in May 2016, and his split decision loss to Joshua Pacio this past March, he snapped the two-bout skid by knocking out Indonesian prospect Adrian Matheis in May.
Adding fuel to Catalan’s hunger for a win is the fact that Amnuaysirichoke knocked out his older brother, Rene, back in December 2014. “It is one of my goals, to get back a win for him,” he claimed with determination. “I will play to my strengths, and I will even go head-to-head with his strengths. If I can submit him, it will be a satisfying win for me, for sure.”
Now, “The Ilonggo” is engulfed in training camp to ensure victory.
While routines vary in the morning depending on the day’s focus, the afternoons and nights are spent on grappling and striking.
He does cardio twice a week to improve his stamina, has a single day devoted to power lifts in an effort to improve muscle strength, and has a circuit day aimed at enhancing his conditioning. He will also start the week with light sparring, and end it with full sparring.
Though a victory over Amnuaysirichoke would undoubtedly be a marquee moment in his career, the night of 18 August holds even greater significance. Rene is competing as well, and will open ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS against Chinese grappling prodigy Bu Huo You Ga.
This is the first time the siblings will be featured on a ONE show together, and they plan to make it a night they will never forget. “We have the same aim of winning,” Catalan says. “So making it two for two on this card will make this extra special.”