Filipina atomweight contender Rome “The Rebel” Trinidad is a striking presence in the ONE Championship cage, but don’t be fooled by her appearance.
The rising star of the ONE atomweight division is a former professional model, but has a burning passion for martial arts that has carried her onto the global stage. Now she has her sights set on the top.
Trinidad makes her latest appearance in the cage on Saturday, 12 May when she takes on Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol in a battle between two talents tipped for success in the growing atomweight division.
The matchup represents Trinidad’s third professional bout, and her second appearance inside the ONE Championship cage. And after losing out to Thai favourite Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige on her debut, she’s determined to get off the mark and register her first win in the ONE cage.
The 21-year-old has a long career ahead of her, but she had to face battles of another kind growing up, as she dealt with the separation of her parents and the unwanted attention of bullies.
One of four siblings in San Rafael, Bulacan, Trinidad explained how things were far from smooth in her formative years.
“My parents are actually separated,” she said.
“You know how it is with married people [sometimes] – they separate, then get back together, and then separate again. I grew up with that environment, with us not being together, really. Some of us stayed with dad, and some of us stayed with mom.”
Dealing with a family break-up is bad enough for any young girl to deal with, but Trinidad also found herself on the receiving end of bullying.
She had participated in beauty pageants since her high school days, leading to some of her fellow pupils to unfairly label and tease her.
“People made fun of me a lot because I am a girl,” she explains.
“They say that beautifying myself is the only thing I know. I was hurt, because as a woman, I know I can do so much more.”
Determined to prove her detractors wrong, Trinidad set her sights on a career in the police force, but came up against resistance from another source – her parents.
“I wanted to take up criminology, but my parents did not approve of it, because I am a girl,” she said.
“I know they are just looking out for me.”
Determined to be successful, but heeding her parents’ advice, she switched her focus, and instead studied Communication Arts at World Citi Colleges in Antipolo, Rizal. It wasn’t her first-choice subject, but she ended up gravitating towards her original subject preference anyway.
After witnessing a police officer teaching a class and demonstrating the Filipino martial art of sikaran, Trinidad decided she wanted to try it out. Even though the opportunity was only afforded to students studying criminology, Trinidad persuaded the police officer to let her join in.
“I mustered up my courage to walk up to the instructor and ask if I could try out,” she remembered.
“He asked what course I was taking, and when I told him I was taking Comm Arts, he was taken aback, because I am a woman and I was not taking up criminology. He let me try out, and that is how I got started.”
She was a natural, and progressed quickly in her study of the art, representing the school and earning honours as the best female sikaran athlete during an open tournament in 2016. Sadly her venture into her new passion was cut short when financial struggles forced her to leave college, and in turn, the sikaran programme.
“I gave way for my younger sibling to finish his studies,” she explained.
“Because we were both studying in private schools, it was financially difficult to manage for my parents, so I wanted to help.”
Trinidad’s love of martial arts was well and truly alive, however, and remained determined to pursue it in some shape or form.
But before finding her home in the cage, Trinidad went back to her beauty pageant roots and landed a succession of modelling jobs through an agency. With the money earned, she helped support her family and help her sibling make it through school.
The jobs were varied but, in a fiercely competitive industry, Trinidad took on all her assignments with enthusiasm.
“I became an ambassador for a resort, appeared in a print ad for a local theme park, and my last gig was a digital commercial for a popular beer brand,” she said.
“It is difficult to get a [modelling] gig though, with so much competition.”
They weren’t the only gigs Trinidad took part in, either. She also played in gigs of the musical variety, singing in a band, playing late-night acoustic sets. She admitted it was something that helped her relax between martial arts training sessions.
“I love singing,” she explained.
“After training, it was my way of relaxing. I sang at bars and coffeeshops when I was just starting martial arts.”
With Trinidad seeming like a natural fit in both the modelling and music worlds, she had designs on a different career.
Inspired by fellow countrywoman Gina “Conviction” Iniong, Trinidad switched her attention from sikaran to martial arts.
“There is so much one can do in the cage, and I thought it was more exciting to watch and do,” she explained.
She made her professional debut in April 2017, and scored a TKO victory over Maria Anna Javilagon. Shortly after that win, she was invited to compete for ONE Championship. It was a can’t-miss opportunity, and she leapt at the chance.
Trinidad’s debut saw her compete against Rika Ishige at ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD in Bangkok, Thailand. Despite being competitive throughout, she eventually succumbed to a second-round rear-naked choke submission as “Tinydoll” took the victory.
It was Trinidad’s first taste of defeat in the cage, but recognising how early she is in her career, “The Rebel” was undeterred by her early setback on her promotional debut.
“Losing does not make one a goner. It is probably just a test from God so that I will have a reason to rise back up,” she says.
“It was my first time to fight internationally, and I lost. It gave me motivation to keep going, get better, and be more aggressive. Most of all, it taught me to be humble in all aspects of my life.”
She may only have two professional bouts under her belt, but Trinidad is already starting to inspire youngsters, who have approached her asking for advice. And she’s more than happy to oblige.
“There are a lot of younger kids who come up to me and ask: ‘How do I become like you?’” she said.
“I am not telling them to become cage warriors like me, but I want them to be strong against any challenge in life – not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally.”
Trinidad will look to rise to her latest challenge when she faces Lumban Gaol at ONE: GRIT AND GLORY in Jakarta.
After taking a detour from her original career path, she says the biggest prize isn’t getting her hand raised in victory, it’s earning the praise and pride of her parents.
“My only goal is, really, for my parents to be proud of me,” she admitted.
“I just want them to be proud of my achievements in life.”