“Fall 7 Times, Stand Up 8”
Chris Romulo’s rise to the top wasn’t easy. The son of an emotionally absent father, he grew up on tough streets and persevered through hardship. With the help of John Wolcott, Romulo recounts his unique journey in a beautifully written memoir, Champions Rising.
Conflict Begins Early
“Whatchew looking at?” Romulo said to another young man, Edwin, who would, in a matter of moments, become Romulo’s first opponent. They were a lot alike: Romulo a first-generation Filipino and Edwin fresh off the boat from Haiti. Edwin’s parents had escaped from Haiti, much like Romulo’s from the Philippines to make a better life for themselves.
“He replied with the same snarky question,” Romulo recalls in his book, Champions Rising. “When you grow up on the streets, there’s explicit language… there’s implicit language. Both of us understood [what] those words implied: ‘Do you want to fight?’”
And so began Romulo’s first test. It was one that would see Romulo’s face get battered; his jawbone cracked; his nose bloodied; and his eye swollen shut. Edwin had broken Romulo’s nose and orbital bone. No small amount of injury. Edwin had througouhly beaten Romulo.
More than beating his body, what Edwin had done was challenge Romulo’s sense of self-belief. Romulo had taken five years of Tae Kwon Do, a martial art he’d originally started in order to become closer to his father. But all that training was for nothing.
“But I narrowed my loss down to incompetence,” he writes.
Romulo couldn’t settle with being less, with a feeling of powerlessness. He wanted to rise above and in doing so he learned how to fight.
His journey to the top as one of New York City’s most renowned and respected Muay Thai fighters wasn’t easy. His progress was hampered by set backs, injuries and layoffs. But Romulo battled his way through with an iron spirit.
Family At The Root
While taking on opponents in the ring, Romulo had his own problems outside of it.
One of the most prominent conflicts in his story is that of his troubled relationship with his father. Appropriately, Romulo’s memoir is co-authored by John Wolcott.
For those unfamiliar with Wolcott, he produces a podcast called The Father’s Journey. He was also the videographer behind the wonderful “Thailand Journal” series on YouTube. Wolcott has been immersed in the sport of Muay Thai for a long time and regularly commentates at Max Muay Thai alongside myself, Matt Lucas, and Rob Cox.
It’s not just the hardships between Romulo and his father that are touched on, but also Romulo’s relationship with his oldest son, Jube. At one point, Romulo realizes that he has put his oldest son’s needs and desires on the back burner. Romulo was training for a fight at the time (a fight which he ultimately lost) and wasn’t spending enough time with his son.
Like his father before him, he had become absent to his own flesh and blood.
Making A Change
Unlike his father, Romulo realized that he had to take responsibility.
“I blame me for not being there when Jube needed me most,” he admits in the book. “If I was there when Jube needed me, [losing the fight] wouldn’t have happened.”
Ultimately, Romulo realizes that he needs to be there for his son, to inspire and motivate him—a fact which teaches him that his story, failures and victories can inspire others, too. The memoir isn’t just about Romulo’s rising; it’s about helping others reach their true potential. If there’s anything to take away from the book it’s that there are people, like Chris Romulo, who want you to succeed—and that you can do it. Chris Romulo has risen and he wants you to join him.
A Fast & Powerful Read
The book has a strong narrative, and the fight descriptions are poignant and lasting. Wolcott does a great job translating Romulo’s voice and getting into the nitty gritty of fighting.
One of my few criticisms though is that the book is too short. I would have liked more time to really savor the triumphs and to understand more of the difficulties of Romulo’s challenges. The book does a knockout job with its quick one-two punch style and is a great entertaining read. It is also a remarkably quick read and something you can devour in a single sitting.
I highly recommend this magnificent story of human suffering and triumph to fight fans everywhere.