Next Friday, 8 November, the man from Manila will challenge the young Team Lakay superstar for the ONE Strawweight World Title in the main event of ONE: MASTERS OF FATE in a battle he never thought would happen.
Though the Catalan Fighting Systems (CFS) representative dreamed about the chance to add mixed martial arts gold to his collection of honors on the international stage, he was adamant he would not face a fellow Filipino to get it.
However, a set of exceptional circumstances got the 40-year-old fired up to defend his gym’s reputation in his hometown.
Ahead of the biggest bout of his long and decorated career, the Wushu World Champion reveals why he accepted this match-up, how he believes he can dethrone his division’s top dog, and his pride about being part of an all-Filipino World Title main event.
ONE: You said you would rather not compete against a fellow Filipino in ONE. What changed?
Rene Catalan: I really didn’t like the things that were thrown my way – even if I didn’t say anything about them. I declined a match back in August precisely because I didn’t want to compete against a fellow Filipino, and I was happy that a countryman was holding a World Title. I wanted to support my fellow countryman.
However, Pacio posted something saying that he could finish me in less than 15 minutes. I don’t know who came out with it, but when I was interviewed about my thoughts on that statement, I just said that we can wait and see if he can back it up.
Later on, he posted something saying he never said anything of that sort, which led to me being bashed by [Team Lakay’s] supporters. I don’t have hoards of fans like Team Lakay does, I just have a handful who I know support my endeavors. Eventually, fans were too much, and even Cordilleran mixed martial arts groups joined in on the bashing.
We have had an unspoken rivalry with Team Lakay for more than a decade just because they are the top team in the country. We actually look up to them, because we aspire to reach the heights that they have. We understand that before they reached their place in Philippine martial arts, they sacrificed a lot of time away from their families to train, investments to fund their own training, and even their own bodies as they fought through everyone trying to succeed in this world.
I believe that they live by the values of martial arts, and have persevered through all adversity because of it. I always tell my athletes that we shouldn’t be envious of them or anyone, and instead focus on the challenges they faced and how they dealt with it. In trying to reach the same goals as them, we will have to tread the same path and potentially, the same challenges, so we should prepare ourselves.
While I admire their team, the trigger to finally make this happen came from their supporters, who have continuously hurled negative comments at me and my team. At some point, I needed to defend my honor and the honor of my team.
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ONE: Do you see this match as a chance to show the world that CFS is ready to challenge Team Lakay as the best in the country?
RC: They are the top team and are almost synonymous with Philippine mixed martial arts – their name comes to mind first when people talk about martial arts here. Some people even think that I am part of Team Lakay just because I am a Filipino who practices martial arts.
They’ve been in existence for decades, and they deserve to be where they are now. If we have more years under our belts, I am hoping to achieve what they have at this point, at least. I hope we become recognized as one of the top teams so that we can provide more opportunities for aspiring athletes.
I want to use that influence of being the top team in the country to improve martial arts in the Philippines. My goal is really to help the local athletes. It’s the reason why I didn’t go back to Canada when I had the chance and declined offers from other countries.
I had already established CFS here, and I just needed to build it up so that we can provide an avenue for struggling athletes who may not have enough financial capabilities to train and support their families.
ONE: Despite your reservations about facing your countryman, what does it mean to be part of an all-Filipino World Title main event in Manila?
RC: As a Filipino, I feel that it is an important honor to be in this spot. I am thankful to be part of history, headlining an event where the World Title is on the line against two of the standouts in our division.
I’m happy, honored, and thankful that I am given this opportunity to compete on such a big stage and be at the front and center of all of it.
My goal is to win, not for my own happiness, but to give the World Title the honor that it deserves. Of course, I will be happy if I win, but not as happy as I would imagine, as it would mean taking the World Title from a fellow Filipino.
ONE: What does it mean to you to compete for a World Title?
RC: As a fighter, this gives validation to the hard work I have put into my craft. Any athlete dreams about getting this opportunity, and now I am here.
This is important to me because I want to one day go around the country with the World Title and share how I achieved my goal of winning it, and how God helped me through my journey. I want to share that one has to go through tremendous challenges to reach incredible heights.
ONE: What do you have to be wary of against Joshua?
RC: I think his scrambling is one of the things I have to watch out for.
They know me as a wushu artist, so I think one of the things they could try against me is to pressure me because they know I am not that young. I think he’s well-trained in execution, and he won’t be reckless.
ONE: How do you plan to neutralize his strengths?
RC: I am preparing for anything they might throw at me. I’m training on the ground and honing my striking, and I think by being prepared against their possible strategies, I will be able to neutralize him.
I’m not worried about his striking or even his ground game. I know their capabilities on both aspects of the game, and even if their training, conditioning, and scrambles may be top-notch, I think I can handle them.
ONE: Where do you see the holes in his game?
RC: We know that [Yosuke] Saruta is a good grappler, and I think that’s why he struggled a bit against him. For me, I can’t just replicate what he did because first, it’s a bit of a short notice for me, and second, I don’t think I’m on Saruta’s level of grappling.
However, there are moves that his past opponents did that I found to be effective, which I am planning to mix in with my arsenal.