Last Friday, 27 July, Rene “The Challenger” Catalan earned the biggest victory of his mixed martial arts career.
Not only did Catalan extend his win streak to five, but he also handed the Indonesian martial arts hero the first loss of his professional career.
The 39-year-old has had to overcome difficult challenges — both inside the cage, and out of it — and he is just now beginning to reap the fruits of his labor.
In this exclusive interview, Catalan talks about his tremendous victory at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS, who he is interested in facing next, his thoughts on Team Lakay, and much more.
ONE Championship: Did you anticipate the match with Stefer Rahardian going three rounds?
Rene Catalan: I wanted it to be a stoppage, but he is really good. I could not control him on the ground, and like I always say, whenever you step into the cage, there are always adjustments. So, I found another way to win.
ONE: In the second round, you rattled him with a left hook. Did you think you were going to knock him out then?
RC: He was tall, and I knew he is well prepared, because I know his camp (Bali MMA). But, I also knew that he did not have a strong chin. If I could hit him well, no matter how tall he was, he was going down. That is why I kept targeting that.
ONE: On paper, Stefer had a clear advantage on the ground — after all, he has won several tournaments. However, you did not hesitate to grapple with him. What made you confident in matching his ground game?
RC: I am only a blue belt in BJJ, and I am not too savvy on escapes and transitions, but I have a solid grasp of the basics. On the ground, I did my best to defend in order to prevent him from getting into position for a choke, and other submission holds. I also knew how to escape.
During training, I knew he would take me to the ground and try to submit me. I thought about the worst things he could do to me, so I prepared escapes in various unexpected situations he might put me in.
Actually, I was constantly getting beaten by my guys in the gym with those takedowns. Guys smaller than me, like Robin [Catalan], were all having their way with me during training. No matter how I defended, they just threw me down to the ground. They took me down at will, and they even got me to submit.
That is why Stefer’s takedowns were not surprising for me any more. I knew how to control and defend them, because it has become muscle memory for me.
ONE: How important was this win for you?
RC: Words cannot express how important this win was for me.
It is not that I am in a hurry for a title shot, but the win allows me to sustain the needs of my students, like food and shelter. I am happy, because I can pay for the gym’s rent, I get to fill our food stock for the fighters, and I can send money to my kids.
Even with the win, I know that it does not make me the top contender in the division. But really, the win matters more to me than just getting me closer to the World Title.
ONE: Do you think winning helps the prestige of your gym, Catalan Fighting System, especially with the prominence of Team Lakay?
RC: It helps, but they are so popular that even after my win, people branded me as part of Team Lakay.
I understand why people might think the way they do, and I do not blame them. I do think they deserve to be the top team in the Philippines because they have invested so much, worked so hard, and maintained their discipline to reach the heights of where they are now.
We look at them as a model and inspiration, and are never jealous of their success. Winning helps put us in the consciousness of local martial arts fans. It also catches the attention of writers and bloggers, which gives us a chance to introduce ourselves to a wider audience.
ONE: Moving forward, what is next for you, and when would you like to get back in the cage?
RC: I could go back to the cage even next week, because I never stop training. Ruel [Catalan] has an upcoming match, so I am training with him.
We also have an upcoming event in Korea under the Philippine Sports Commission – they got seven warriors from our team to represent the Philippines in sambo competition. It is not final yet, but as for me, I am ready to go any time against anyone — as long as it is not a fellow Filipino.
It is not that I am afraid of facing a fellow Filipino or compete against a member of Team Lakay, but rather because since 2003, I have carried the Philippine flag whenever I compete. I feel like if I compete against a fellow Filipino, it is already just about the money.
I will avoid competing against a fellow Filipino, even if it is for a title shot, if that is possible. However, the promoter will still have the last call. I told [ONE officials] that I will be ready for anyone — as long as it is not a fellow Filipino.
ONE: Would you be interested in facing top Japanese contenders, like Riku Shibuya or Hayato Suzuki?
RC: Sure. If they would be the obstacle I have to pass to get to the World Champion, then I will go through them. I will not claim that I will breeze through the competition on my way to a title opportunity, but I will do my best, and do everything in my power to overcome those obstacles.
ONE: How about Kritsada Kongsrichai? He has already faced your brothers. Does a match with him interest you?
RC: If I face him, I will not accept a loss. I always tell myself there is no “next time.” I do not want to be complacent and think that if I lose, then I can get back up and try “next time.” I live on the notion that there is no “next,” which is why I will be selfish in taking wins — no matter who is thrown at me.
ONE: Finally, would you want to get a rematch with Alex Silva, and let him meet the “real” Rene Catalan?
RC: (Laughs) I might be too boastful already if I say yes. Honestly though, given good training conditions, I will not back down against him. If I get a chance for a rematch against him, I already have a key that could help in getting a win against him.