Rene “The Challenger” Catalan might have punched a golden ticket to his first World Title opportunity after pulling off an upset victory former ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito of Japan at ONE: REIGN OF VALOR last Friday, 8 March.
Catalan nullified Naito’s impeccable ground game as he stuffed the former World Champion’s relentless takedown attempts.
After securing a dominant position, Catalan unloaded a barrage of strikes to compel the referee to call a halt to the contest with 28 seconds remaining in the first round.
His astonishing triumph over Naito was Catalan’s sixth-straight win, which also marked the Japanese submission wizard’s first defeat by way of knockout.
Even though he acknowledges the toughness that his Japanese opponent exhibited in the bout, the 40-year-old Iloilo City native stressed that every ounce of effort that he exerted in his training camp paved the way to having his hand raised.
“Naito is a very tough athlete. He is a former World Champion for a reason,” Catalan praised.
“I know that his grappling is high level, but with my wrestling training with coach Roque [Verangel Mana-ay Jr.], I was able to pin him down.”
Catalan revealed that the plan was to force Naito to stand and bang with him, but he was coerced to deal with his foe’s bread-and-butter.
“Actually, the game plan was to try and strike with him and knock him out with a straight punch in the first round, maybe in the second if I can’t get it in the first,” he disclosed.
“While battling for position, there was an opening for a knee. That’s why I went for it, then I never stopped because I didn’t want to go to a second round.”
But as impressive as his win was, Catalan shared that he was close to throwing in the towel after Naito’s first takedown attempt stretched his back in a dangerous manner.
“In his first takedown attempt, I nearly tapped because I felt my back cramp up. I was 99 percent sure that I was going to tap. The pain was so intense and I can’t breathe properly,” he bared.
While the pain was unbearable, Catalan held on just long enough to get his second wind and eventually secure a devastating finish.
“When he tried to adjust and he rolled, that’s where I got my wind. I really maintained my position so I can recover, and I never let up,” he said.
Catalan believes that his stellar performance against Naito warrants a shot at the coveted ONE Strawweight World Championship, which will be up for grabs on 12 April when Yosuke “Tobizaru” Saruta collides with Joshua “The Passion” Pacio in a rematch at ONE: ROOTS OF HONOR.
“I’m very happy that I’m getting closer to fulfilling my ultimate dream to become a World Champion,” he stated. “As I’ve said before, I will overcome all challenges to make it a reality.”