A win for Rene “The Challenger” Catalan in Yangon, Myanmar could put him at the front of the queue for a ONE Strawweight World Title shot.
The Catalan Fighting Systems head coach’s five-bout win streak is his division’s best, and represents a remarkable career turnaround after two losses and a no-contest in his first three bouts in ONE Championship.
Now, a win against former ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito at ONE: REIGN OF VALOR next Friday, 8 March, would give the Filipino warrior the signature victory he needs to take the next step in his career.
On the other hand, if the Japanese hero can get his hand raised against the in-form multiple-time wushu World Champion, he could surge back into the World Title picture.
Whichever way you look at it, those stakes make this one of the most important and anticipated bouts at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium.
Ahead of this pivotal match-up, 40-year-old from Manila broke down his return to the cage, and how he can extend his winning run to six straight.
ONE Championship: This is your first match since your defeat of Stefer Rahardian last July. How excited are you to be back in the cage?
Rene Catalan: Actually, after my [last] bout, I’ve constantly been preparing, but unforeseen circumstances kept getting in the way, so I’m really excited to finally compete again.
ONE: You are on a five-bout win streak. Is there pressure on you to keep the streak going?
RC: Not really. I’m focused on my goal [of reaching the top], so I just keep on grinding.
ONE: Naito is coming off a loss against Pacio. Did you see any weaknesses that you could take advantage of when you face off?
RC: I think Naito has improved his striking skills, which he used in his rematch against Alex Silva, but his best weapon is still his ground game.
Comparing our striking skills, I think I have a bit of an advantage. I think striking will be his weakness.
ONE: How do you plan on keeping him off the ground?
RC: At the top of our priority is preparing our takedown defense. If the match spills to the ground, we’ll be ready with our escapes and counters against his plans.
We’re practicing multiple scenarios and focusing on defense.
ONE: What are you most worried about against Naito?
RC: He is coming off a loss, so he’ll want to bounce back strong. I know he’ll give everything he has because his mind is certainly zeroed in on reclaiming his spot in the World Title picture.
It’s one of the things that will make him strong heading into the match. I’m already expecting this, and that he will double his effort on preparing well for this match.
However, while his goal is to bounce back strong, mine is to satisfy my hunger for a World Title opportunity.
ONE: What advantages do you think will have against him?
RC: I think my best advantage is my thirst for achieving my goal of reaching the top.
However young he is, or whatever game plan he has for our match, I will overcome it because of my desire to win the World Title.
ONE: Do you think you’re ready for a World Title opportunity if you get this victory?
RC: I will just do what I need to do, but it’s really not up to me. If they think I deserve it, I will not waste the opportunity.
If the way to a World Title shot is to defeat Naito, then I will do everything in my power to win.
ONE: You have said you would prefer not to compete against Filipinos. If Joshua Pacio and Yosuke Saruta rematch for the World Title and Pacio wins, would you have a problem facing him?
RC: Obviously, [I would prefer] Saruta. However, I’m ready to take on whoever I will be tasked to compete against.
It’s really a normal occurrence in the cage [to competing against compatriots]. Even Team Lakay knows it’s inevitable to compete against a fellow Filipino in the ONE cage, and they even said that it’s their privilege to do so.
Personally, I avoid it as much as I can because some of them are not just fellow Filipinos, they are also my former teammates.
I give value to family, so if given the choice, I’d always choose to compete against other nationalities, as there are a lot of talented fighters out there – not just in the Philippines.
When I was in the national team, I always supported my countrymen. To this day, it has stuck with me, because I want us to rise together.