Former ONE Strawweight World Champion Alex “Little Rock” Silva is clawing his way back into the title picture, but before he can think about challenging for the gold, he needs to beat one of his earliest opponents once more.
This Friday, 26 November, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master will square off against Filipino wushu star Rene “The Challenger” Catalan in a strawweight mixed martial arts battle at ONE: NEXTGEN III from Singapore.
The rematch has been more than eight years in the making, and while Silva acknowledges that Catalan’s all-around skills have grown tremendously in that time, he still feels much sharper in his main area of expertise.
“Definitely, both of us are completely different fighters now,” the 39-year-old Singapore-based Brazilian says.
“In my mind, we’re kind of like a white belt in MMA when we first fought, but we improved a lot. Of course, he has improved a lot. His grappling, his wrestling, and his striking are outstanding, but I improved a lot too. I can strike now.
“Even if he improved his grappling, I don’t think he’s up to par with my grappling. I have been definitely watching him for a long time.”
The two originally met at ONE: KINGS & CHAMPIONS in April 2013 under very different circumstances.
Silva, a BJJ World Champion, was coming off a loss in his first promotional appearance against future flyweight kingpin Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio.
Meanwhile, Catalan, a multiple-time Wushu World Champion, was making his mixed martial arts debut with a heavy heart. The Filipino athlete’s wife had passed away two weeks earlier, but he was determined to carry on.
In the end, the matchup didn’t last long. After the opening bell, “Little Rock” quickly brought the action to the canvas and forced the tap with just 26 seconds remaining to earn his first victory on the global stage.
“It was a short fight. I was able to finish the fight in the first round,” Silva recalls.
“I just started very aggressively with my grappling, pressured him against his defense, took him down, [and] controlled him on the ground a little bit. And I kind of backed up and I was able to take him down, take his back, and get an armbar submission.”
Of course, a lot has changed since that first meeting almost a decade ago.
The Brazilian then dropped the strap back to Naito in his next contest and experienced mixed results in the years that followed. But those setbacks did not deter “Little Rock,” who decimated Miao Li Tao this past April to maintain his grip on the strawweight division’s #4 contender spot.
Along the way, Silva also elevated his striking repertoire under the tutelage of Evolve’s Muay Thai World Champions.
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For his part, Catalan’s early MMA journey continued to get rockier – but he turned things around in a big way.
Following a no contest and a loss to Silva’s Evolve teammate Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, the Manila native put together one of the greatest runs in ONE Championship history.
He won six straight fights, climbed the divisional ladder, and eventually fought ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua “The Passion” Pacio for the gold.
Though he ultimately lost that World Title challenge and then fell to #2 strawweight contender Bokang “Little Giant” Masunyane, “The Challenger” proved that his world-class striking could carry him all the way to the top.
Moreover, the 42-year-old has continued to display improved grappling, which was fine-tuned during his time with the Philippine national sambo team.
Even though Catalan’s all-around game has grown by leaps and bounds, Silva still believes he holds a definitive advantage – especially now that he’s added a potent stand-up arsenal.
“I’m very confident in my skills and my grappling skills,” the Brazilian offers.
“Like I said, back to when we fought for the first time, I couldn’t strike well. I couldn’t even strike. I [was] just like 100 percent pure grappling. Now, I feel that I can stay more on the feet if I have to and use my grappling.”
With that in mind, “Little Rock” thinks his bread and butter will lead him to victory once again when this rematch goes down on Friday – except this time, it may take him a little bit longer.
“I think God knows what’s going to happen,” Silva adds, “but I predict a submission in the second round.”