Reece “Lightning” McLaren is no stranger to facing elite opposition.
The 26-year-old Filipino-Australian already knows he can compete at the highest level. After all, he nearly defeated ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes for his title in December 2016, ultimately losing by a razor-thin split decision.
Last November, at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD in Manila, Philippines, McLaren recreated himself as a flyweight. He made his presence felt in the weight class immediately, as he successfully submitted top contender Anatpong Bunrad in the first round via brabo choke.
That caused “Lightning” to set his sights on the ONE Flyweight World Championship. He was originally scheduled to challenge divisional kingpin Adriano Moraes for the belt next week, but an untimely injury forced the champ to withdraw from the contest.
However, as McLaren says, the show must go on. The Aussie will now clash with Gianni Subba in the main event of ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY. The show takes place at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Friday, 9 March, and the bout will be a flyweight title eliminator.
In this exclusive interview, McLaren talks about the drop to flyweight, his clash with Subba, and his recent training session with fellow countryman, Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen.
ONE Championship: How did you feel in your flyweight debut?
Reece McLaren: Making bantamweight was maybe a bit too easy. Basically, I was eating pretty much whatever I wanted and was on weight, so it made sense to restrict what I was eating a little and go down, if I could. And obviously, I could! You need to find the most optimal place for yourself, and I think this is it. My weight felt good, my body felt good. Everything felt just prime.
ONE: Did you feel like the extra dieting gave you more focus?
RM: Not really. Basically, it was new waters and a test. I have wanted [success in martial arts] more than I have wanted anything. I wanted it more than I could breathe, and now more than I wanted to eat.
ONE: How did your new weight affect how you felt in the match?
RM: I felt really strong. Well, I do not know if I felt strong, or the other guy just felt lighter because I am used to the bigger guys. I have always been a small bantamweight, so going down a division where I am sizable, or at least equal in size, felt like a new experience. However, Anatpong was taller and rangier — I thought I was coming down to compete against guys my size!
My body was running so good. It is funny when people ask me how I felt, my reply is: “I could have felt better.” I got sucked in a little bit with the food and had a pastry, and man, I was full until the following Monday. It felt good, but I could have felt even better, so I have learned a lesson there — I will not be eating pastries.
ONE: Do you feel like you showed everything you wanted to show?
RM: No, absolutely not. After the Bibiano match, we have evolved. Whatever you saw in that bout, I am like version 2.4 now. Next time, it might be version 3.0. Everything is improving in camp. I am busy every day training, so I am just excited to get back in the gym and train for the next match-up.
ONE: You have done some training with double World Champion Martin Nguyen recently. How was that?
RM: I really like working with him and the team. Master Fari [Salievski] is an amazing coach. They flew me down, put me up, and looked after me real well. If that happens again in the future, I am down.
ONE: Did it motivate you even further?
RM: It gave me heaps of motivation. Martin is so disciplined, and he is such a nice dude. Coming out of Christmas, he had been dieting, and I let my [diet] slip a little. I got there and felt bad I could not push him as much as I wanted. That was motivation for me to push a little bit more. My weight is good, and now upping the fitness to a professional level because the motivation I got from going down there was tenfold.
ONE: You were supposed to face Adriano Moraes for the flyweight world title, but he got injured. What was your first thoughts when you heard the news?
RM: My first thoughts were immediate disappointment. Injuries happen. It is a part of the business. But the show must go on. I am just glad to still be in the main event. It is such an honor to be given this role, and to be the draw on the card with a fantastic athlete like Gianni Subba.
ONE: Speaking of which, where do you view Subba in the division?
RM: Gianni is at the top of the food chain. He is very skilled. I see a well-rounded competitor, much like Adriano, but with a different BJJ caliber than what Adriano possesses. He is dangerous everywhere, much the same, and he is tall. I think I may have a speed advantage, but I feel like I have that against almost everyone.
ONE: What do you see happening in this bout?
RM: I see it being a hard three round battle. It will be fast-paced, and I think the crowd is in for a great match.