Becoming a student of martial arts has changed Reece “Lightning” McLaren‘s life in many profound ways. It has given him a career, an ever-growing legion of fans, and a purpose.
Also, it is giving him a second chance at possibly becoming a world champion. This coming Friday, 9 March, he will clash with Malaysian hero Gianni Subba at ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY in Kuala Lumpur, with a shot at the ONE Flyweight World Championship on the line.
The shot was already McLaren’s, given he was originally supposed to face reigning champion Adriano Moraes before the Brazilian was forced to withdraw due to injury. However, McLaren selflessly accepted the bout with Subba, risking his challenger status just to ensure the show still had a headliner.
Another gift that has been granted to him is the chance to explore his heritage, something he may not have had the opportunity, or inclination to do, had he not signed with ONE Championship.
McLaren is Australian on his mother’s side, but his biological father was from the Philippines. Despite never knowing him, “Lightning” always knew that being Filipino was a part of him.
Nonetheless, it was never something he had delved into.
“I have never met my biological father or anything, so I do not know much of my Filipino side,” the 26-year-old admits.
With two loving parents that raised him and instilled in him many positive traits, he has not been deprived of nurture, so it has never been something he was left longing for. He had a reliable father figure in his life, who helped to make him a better man.
“My step-dad is one of the hardest workers I have ever met, and I dare say I get a lot of my work ethic from him,” the flyweight explains. “It is inspiration for myself to keep pushing and striving for greatness.”
However, after debuting on short notice for ONE Championship in the Philippines back in December 2015, his interest regarding his heritage was piqued.
McLaren recalls the cheers of a crowd that was vehemently pro-Mark Striegl, initially offering him little in the way of support. But once the Manila fans had realized his connection to their city, they changed their tune. Since then, both the martial artist and fans alike have built upon this intrinsic bond.
“For me, it was a personal connection,” he remembers, as he walked the streets of the capital for the first time. “My biological dad is from Manila. There was an interest to go there and to see it, a curiosity. To go there and compete was amazing.
“However, I was competing against the hometown favorite Mark Striegl, who is an absolute superstar in the Philippines, so it was hostile ground. But then, once the info got around that I was half-Filipino, I was really welcomed the second and third time [I competed there]. It is almost like competing at home now.”
Going from public enemy number one to crowd favorite overnight was unexpected, especially after defeating Striegl. But it helped McLaren to begin feeling some unity with his roots, and get more in tune with his brethren, who were total strangers prior to the bout.
“Lightning” received more love from the crowd when he defeated Muin Gafurov in April 2016, and won the audience over in his split decision loss to ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes later that December.
Instead of any resentment, McLaren felt acceptance.
“They really embraced me,” he reveals of his new-found compatriots. “I think it is the Filipino way. They really embrace their own, and it is beautiful.”
Given that McLaren’s life growing up had sometimes seen him singled out as an outsider – a rare Australian when he was on Christmas Island, and a rare Asian when he returned to the mainland – having people accept him into their hearts as one of them means a lot to him.
It may have taken the flyweight well into his adulthood to start feeling an attachment to the Philippines as one half of his identity, but thanks to the kindness and hospitality he has been shown, now it will never leave him.