Robin “The Ilongo” Catalan may now ply his trade under the bright lights of ONE Championship, but life before his martial arts stardom was much more difficult than it is today.
The 11th of 13 children, Catalan was raised in Iloilo City, Philippines, in a crowded house, and times were tough.
“The house was made out of bamboo. There were three rooms, and we squeezed into where we could to sleep,” he told ONE Championship.
“Our mother was a snack vendor, while our father’s day job was a truck driver. Actually, he was a driver of anything that could help earn money. He was really hardworking, and despite the difficulty of earning enough money, he was able to raise all of us properly.”
With so many mouths to feed, the Catalan house was always struggling for money, despite his parents’ efforts. And matters were made even worse when tragedy struck.
“My father had his first stroke when I was 14 or 15, after a day of driving a passenger tricycle,” the self-confessed daddy’s boy narrates. “After the attack, half of his body was paralyzed.
“We all helped out by taking jobs like harvesting rice and doing construction,” the strawweight explains. “We were studying at the time, so we just did jobs on the side when we did not have classes.”
Sadly, Catalan’s father Rodrigo had a second stroke a year later and died. But before his untimely death, Catalan’s father had passed on his love for boxing. He had taught his children how to box, as well as introduced them to martial arts.
The latter proved useful during Catalan’s schooldays, when he found himself in danger of falling in with the wrong people.
“Back in high school, I got a bit too involved with delinquent fraternities,” he admitted.
“I figured I would just focus on martial arts to turn away from that mess.”
Catalan started training with his older brother Rene, and the pair later became teammates on the Filipino national wushu team. Robin went on to become a national Muay Thai representative and captured a IFMA Muay Thai world championship. But he later left the squad to help his brother’s new team, Catalan Fighting Systems.
“I left the team once my brother established the Catalan Fighting Systems (CFS) where there are no messy politics, and we get to help aspiring martial artists, especially those who want to elevate their lives out of poverty,” he explained.
“I believe that these trials are God’s way of teaching us how to keep our faith in him, and that we will get through those trials because of our faith.”
Now happily settled with his current team, Catalan is preparing to face his next test, against Kritsada “Dream Man” Kongsrichai at ONE: IRON WILL in Bangkok, Thailand.
The bout will carry extra significance, with Kongsrichai beating his brother Rabin last December at ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD. It’s a tough test, but one “The Ilongo” is ready to face head-on.
“I know that he is a strong opponent, and I will do everything in my power to try and beat him,” he said.
“This will be a good match because win or lose, I am going to give it everything I’ve got, and more.”