Fighting Families in ONE: The Catalans

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The Catalans
(Left to Right) Rabin Catalan, Robin Catalan, Rene Catalan, Ruel Catalan via Dojo Drifter.

The martial arts journey for most people involves sacrifice, hardship, heartbreak. The life of a fighter isn’t something a sane mind would choose. More often than not the best athletes MMA has to offer began their careers without much of a choice. This is the story of the Catalans.

The Family That Fights Together

At the time of writing, no family has had more blood fight in the ONE ring than the Catalan clan. Four brothers and one sister once competed, or is still competing, in the promotion. These are Rene, Robin, Rabin, Ruel, and Rocel. They don’t like R’s.

Similar to many ONE athletes, the biggest fighting family in the promotion didn’t get the best start in life. Growing up in the Philippine province of Iloilo, the Catalan brood had 12 kids. This led to some problems in some of the siblings were unable to finish their studies and look for early work to help the family.

The prime example being Rene Catalan, who had to move to Metro Manila to enlist and train as a soldier. Fortunately, this would be the first step the family will take down the path of professional fighting.

Wushu and The Road to MMA

Rene Catalan
(Red) Rene Catalan at the 15th Asian Games via Zimbio.

It was during his time training as a soldier that Rene was introduced to wushu and encouraged to compete. The young Catalan took to the sport like a fish to water.

During the next few years, he won the Wushu World Cup twice, became a Wushu World Champion twice, and medals at the Asian Championships, Asian Games, and South-East Asian Games. His success became the inspiration for his brothers to take up martial arts.

Most notable of these was Robin who took up boxing, wushu and Muay Thai and became the IFMA Muay Thai Champion.

It was after all this success that the Catalans began transitioning into a new sport. One that would take the world by storm, and one day feature their family name as one of the country’s greatest pioneers

The first of the siblings who would fight professionally in the cage were Rabin and Ruel. They made their debuts in 2009 and 2011 respectively in regional promotions like URCC, TPG, and the Team Lakay Championship. Once in a while they would make an appearance on the international stage with Legend FC and King of the Cage.

Robin would make his own transition to the sport in 2012, and Rene would follow suit in 2013 after being forced to retire from the national team. Rocel is the latest addition, going pro in 2018.

The Catalan Fighting System and Team Lakay Rivalry

(Left) Mark Sangiao, (Right) Rene Catalan
(Left) Mark Sangiao, (Right) Rene Catalan via ABS-CBN Sports.

Rene decided to take his fighting career to the next level by founding his own gym – The Catalan Fighting System.

In the years since the Catalans made their professional debuts in MMA, CFS has arguably become the second most successful Philippine stable in ONE. In addition to the Catalans, the gym has come up with exciting prospects in Jomary Torres, and Mary Jane Buna.

Their relative success on both the local and international MMA circuits drew a lot of comparisons to the Kings of Philippine MMA – Team Lakay. But comparisons of skill alone doesn’t create a compelling rivalry, history does, and these two have it in spades.

Before either CFS or Team Lakay were even a thing, the people who would eventually form these gyms were teammates on the national wushu team – and they were not always friendly.

During the run up of Joshua Pacio’s defense of the ONE Strawweight title against Rene Catalan, Rene opened up about the old rivalry in an interview with Tie Breaker Times.

During my time on the national team in 2002, it has always been the Cordilleran group in wushu. We were only a few from Visayas. They felt like we would not last[…]In sparring, it would get out of hand. They would be taking it to the athletes from Visayas each time[…]Of course, I won’t allow that to just simply pass. I would usually get back at them. Every time we’d spar, it seemed like there was no tomorrow.

Rene Catalan

Team Lakay coach Mark Sangiao was quick to dispel the notion of such a rivalry, saying that there was no bad blood. However, t’s still undeniable that the Bagiuo-based squad has been a thorn in the Catalans side for a very long time.

Even before coming into ONE Robin lost to Danny Kingad at PXC Laban. Rabin lost to Geje Eustaquio at Team Lakay Championship and to Joshua Pacio at ONE Global Rivals. While Rene most recently lost to Pacio in his title challenge bid at ONE Masters of Fate last year.

The Catalan Spirit

(Top) Robin Catalan
(Top) Robin Catalan via ABS-CBN Sports.

Looking at their records on paper, it’s hard to believe that any of the Catalans were anything special.

Ruel is currently 3-8 in his career with only a single win in his run with ONE. Rabin is 4-4 without a single win in ONE. Robin is at 9-6 with an up and down journey throughout. While Rocel is 1-3 including her OWS debut. The only standout is Rene at 6-3 but even he didn’t look like he would last very long.

What unites the Catalans in the sport is that they’re all underdogs that didn’t get the best start. Every single one of them had to eat a lot of losses in the early part of their careers. Rene in particular got it bad when he was 0-2 after his loss to Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke and went away for two years.

But the fight is never over when you’re a Catalan. Upon his return to the cage, Rene lit up the division with a six fight win streak, capping it off by beating former champion Yoshitaka Naito. Robin, never one to stay down, knocked out Gustavo Balart on the same card his brother fought for the title.

Ruel is still fighting. After a three year hiatus his last fight was a victory in the local promotion Big 3 MMA. Rabin’s last fight was in 2017, but he’s still active in the gym. It might only be a matter of time before he emulates his brothers and we see his return to the cage.

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