While some athletes get discouraged with early failure, Rene “The Challenger” Catalan has managed to use his losses as motivation to not only get back on his feet, but also to elevate him towards the upper echelons of ONE Championship’s strawweight division.
After starting his ONE career with a pair of defeats and a no contest, the 39-year-old founder of Catalan Fighting Systems has just notched his fourth straight victory.
Perhaps what is most surprising about the victory is Catalan out-grappled Peng, a national Greco-Roman wrestling champion in China, throughout much of the contest before finishing him with punches in the second round.
“I was confident because I had already competed against larger guys than him, like my previous opponent Bu Huo You Ga,” the Filipino shares.
“My wrestling coach is also bigger than Peng. If I can defend against my freestyle wrestling coach, it means I should be able to perform against Peng, because he is smaller than I am used to matching up against. I was not worried about wrestling, because I prepared really well.
“Even though I do have wrestling offense, I focused mainly on defense for this match.”
Despite his emphasis on defense, the two-time wushu world champion Catalan came out aggressively to start the contest, and appeared unfazed even when the bout went to the ground, where his opponent was thought to have an advantage.
The Filipino, who is a natural orthodox striker, fired off shots from a southpaw stance in the first stanza, looking to finish the match early with a knockout. However, an unfortunate incident forced him to rethink his game plan.
“During our first clinch, he drove his knee into my groin area,” Catalan explains.
“I actually complained to the ref, but he did not see me. I took Peng down and tried to complain again, which was when he caught me in a guillotine choke. When I signaled to the ref, he had already locked the hold in.
“It was my fault for being careless. I complained while in guard, and my opponent was active in what he was doing, so when he locked me in the guillotine, it was locked in good.”
The guillotine choke was tight, and “The Challenger” admits he was fading. Nonetheless, he was determined not to tap. He eventually slipped out, and after recovering during a brief injury timeout, action resumed. Catalan connected with several hard strikes, and even brought his Chinese foe to the ground where he unleashed some punishment.
Catalan then proceeded to revert to his natural martial arts stance in the second round.
“I am left-handed, but when I started boxing, my stance was orthodox,” he reveals. “I am actually ambidextrous in the cage, but I am naturally left-handed, so my power comes from there.”
“The Challenger” planned to overwhelm his opponent with his boxing skills, and used his world-class striking to crumple Peng late in the frame. Once the Chinese athlete was on the ground, Catalan altered his strategy, and ultimately won with an unforgiving ground and pound attack with only 38 seconds remaining in round number two.
“I am satisfied that I was able to execute my game plan of showcasing my boxing skills against him, and for an answered prayer,” Catalan says. “My only prayer before the match was for God to keep both me and my opponent safe from injury as I went for the win.”
By obtaining his fourth consecutive win inside the ONE cage, Catalan believes it will help to elevate Catalan Fighting Systems’ name, and help spread awareness of his Manila-based gym.
“I am really happy, because winning the match means I can sustain the gym and feed my athletes,” he says. “I believe that these are my most important investments, and that we will soon reap the benefits of the talents we have cultivated.”
In a weight class oozing with talent, Catalan believes he still has a long way to go before he can be considered amongst the division’s elite.
Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, who beat Catalan in 2014, as well as two other Thai stars who defeated his younger brother Rabin in Kristada Kongsrichai and Pongsiri Mitsatit, are some martial artists he would like to encounter in the ONE cage some time in the future.
Still, he is ready to take on any competition with one caveat.
“I have been competing for my country for more than a decade now, and I would not want to face a fellow Filipino on the international stage,” the longtime Philippines wushu national team representative says. “There are a lot of strong athletes from different countries in our division.”
Also, he would like to compete more frequently. “If it was up to me, I would step in the cage every month if possible, as long as I do not have injuries,” he continues. “Hopefully, I make it on a March card.”
Catalan admits that he would not have reached this milestone in his career if not for his early struggles. His match against divisional kingpin Alex Silva revealed areas in his game that he needed to improve upon, as well as the optimum time he needed for preparation.
In addition, the Filipino’s no contest against Khim Dima showed him what he needed to watch out for in the cage, and against Amnuaysirichoke, the wushu world champion realized he needed more stamina, and a better training camp. Even his wins came with lessons he took to heart.
“My latest win is a testament to how much I have learned from my past experiences. I am happy that a lot of people congratulated me, and people told me that I was moving differently for this fight,” he states.
With his determination to gain and learn from his experiences, Catalan is certainly on the right track towards achieving his goals to become a world champion.