Erwin Tagle on Ale Cali murder: “We’re icons. We should represent the sport well.”

R.I.P., Ale Cali

 

The Philippine MMA community was shocked by last week’s news that former PXC flyweight champion Ale “Young Gun” Cali was gunned down in Davao City. A polarizing figure in the sport due to his swag and showmanship inside the cage, Cali’s most prolific win came in his war with Philippine MMA legend Erwin Tagle. MMA Philippines dropped by Ultimate Fitness Metrowalk to speak with the MMA maverick about the guy who got him out of retirement.

“Ale Cali reminded me what it feels like to fight again,” Erwin begins as we sat ourselves down at the waiting lounge of the gym he owns and manages. He has not fought for six years when PXC called him to fight Cali for the Young Gun’s first title defense. “Every time I fight, my opponent is a motivation to get better. I spent more than six months preparing for our fight. Imagine, for six months he was the guy who pushed me, he was inside my head. Then during the fight, you create a bond when you compete and seek greatness together. Because of that fight, I realized that the desire to win and the will to finish are more important than who has more skills.”

As PXC’s original commentator, Erwin found it amusingly ironic that the young kid from Davao whom he interviewed, who took a gamble coming to Manila and trying out for the PXC, whose fights he called, would stand across him in a title fight. “He was the underdog in practically all of his fights. Even during our fight, I felt that he was the underdog. I underestimated the guy. But after the fight, I realized that he’s the champion for a reason.”

From admiring Cali as an opponent, Erwin had the opportunity to know Ale better as one of his trainers. “During his preparation for Louis Smolka, he contacted me and we trained secretly. The guys at Safehouse asked for our help – Eros Baluyot, Mark Ochoa, and myself – so we trained him, focusing on grappling for several sessions. Ale was really cool, he was really young then, and we really pushed him on the ground – what I felt was the aspect he was most lacking then.” After this brief period of training together, Erwin continued to keep in touch with Cali’s coaches, keeping himself in the loop with the Young Gun’s next steps.

With multiple angles being investigated by the Davao City police, Ale Cali’s murder is one that saddens as much as it intrigues those from the relatively small community of MMA practitioners and enthusiasts. “It was really shocking because it happened in Davao. I mean, if it happened there – Duterte and all – what more here, right? So they really have to look into this case, grant Ale justice. Whether it was because of business or a love triangle – we don’t really know – I feel really bad because he’s just 25 years old.”

Sources close to the victim suggest jealousy as the prime motive for the murder, with the husband of one of Cali’s gym clients being implicated.

Trying our best to make sense of something as senseless as murder, Erwin had this to say, “In fighting, it’s either you win or you learn. So in this situation, I guess there’s a lesson also. It should be an awakening that as fighters, we have a responsibility also. It doesn’t mean that just because you’re an MMA fighter, you’re on top of the world. We have to use our influence in a positive way: Leave everything inside the cage; we fight and entertain to inspire others.

“It was sad to hear that after his fight with Smolka, a lot of coaches, managers, and teammates were contacting us, telling us that he was moving in and out of gyms, drinking every evening. I felt that he lacked guidance then. He didn’t have that foundation to keep him grounded, that’s why he started moving from gym to gym.

“A lot of people see him and his cocky fighting style, and they assume things about him. For us, we understand what he’s doing, it’s his strategy. Instead of faking a jab, he’s throwing his opponent off by doing these gestures. It was an interesting style, but I guess his image was tainted because of it.

“Maybe it was an escape for him to do MMA? But [martial arts] is not just about fighting; fighting is just the tip of the iceberg. How you represent and carry yourself outside the ring is equally important. That’s why I tell the guys in our gym that win or lose, how you carry yourself after the fight is what’s important. We’re icons. We promote the sport. We should represent the sport well.”

Erwin’s intent is not to condemn Ale in any way. For someone who knew Cali, who fought, trained, and continued to be interested in his journey as a fighter, Erwin reminds each and every martial artist and human being a most basic truth – one that is taught in any martial art – that a true martial artist will choose to avert violence every possible way.

“I heard he was booked this November for PXC against a Lakay. It would have been his comeback fight after his loss to Montilla. It’s such a waste, because he’s just young and he could have gone a long way in life,” Erwin remarks as we ended our conversation.

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