Two warriors have dreamt endlessly of becoming a ONE World Champion, and on Friday, 9 March, one of those warriors will take a step closer to bringing their vision to life.
On 9 March, Filipino-Australian grappler Reece “Lightning” McLaren will clash with Malaysian hero Gianni Subba in the main event of ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY, which emanates from the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Not only will one of these warriors leave the ONE cage with a victory, but he will also leave with a guaranteed flyweight world title shot in the future.
Two Journeys, ONE Destination
McLaren grew up in the relatively-safe confines of Christmas Island, but his mother and step-father experienced financial hardship when the island’s labor market dried up. That led a teenaged “Lightning” to a job at the local airport to pay his own way through school. While there, a colleague introduced him to the all-encompassing world of martial arts, and McLaren was hooked.
The family moved to Australia’s mainland following his graduation, where being different meant he never really fit in. McLaren did not pay it too much attention, instead keeping himself preoccupied with training at Kachi MMA, and then Potential Unlimited Mixed Martial Arts to pursue his martial arts dreams.
After making his professional cage debut in 2010, McLaren conquered the Australian scene, capturing both the Eternal MMA and XFC bantamweight championships. Inevitably, this led him to the global stage of ONE Championship.
Ever since he was born, Subba has travelled the world. After brief stops in his birthplace of Hawaii and his father’s homeland of Nepal, he was primarily raised in his mother’s hometown of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Similar to McLaren, he and his siblings were bullied in school due to their mixed ethnicity, so they learned taekwondo for self-defense, and even won local competitions.
However, both Subba and his younger brother Keanu moved to the United States when they were teens, because their parents wanted them to get a better education and open better opportunities. While there, the siblings fell in love with the martial arts phenomenon that was sweeping the continent. Being unable to afford formal training, the two bought some boxing gloves, and self-taught themselves through YouTube.
After a few years, Subba finally got the formal training he desired, and dropped out of college to pursue a full-time professional career, and his dreams. After relocating to his hometown of Kuala Lumpur, he was then fortunate enough to score a short-notice debut in ONE Championship, and has made a lasting impact ever since.
Ever since his promotional debut in December 2015, “Lightning” has electrified fans with his fast-paced style.
The Australian, who has always considered himself an underdog, defeated a pair of top bantamweights in Mark Striegl and Muin Gafurov to earn a shot at ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano Fernandes’ belt, a title contest he barely lost via split decision.
After dropping another bout at bantamweight and recognizing he was making the weight limit too easily, he decided to move down to the flyweight division.
That decision served to be wise, as he became the first man to stop Thai contender Anatpong “Mak Mak” Bunrad in his flyweight debut at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD. That submission win got everyone’s attention, and made him an instant contender in the weight class.
In fact, he was originally meant to challenge reigning kingpin Adriano Moraes for the belt in Kuala Lumpur. But after the champ was forced to withdraw due to injury, “Lightning” selflessly stepped up, and put his title shot on the line against a short notice replacement in Subba, who was already competing on the card.
Subba is quite arguably the most competitive athlete in the division. In fact, Subba holds several promotional records, having spent his entire professional career in ONE Championship. Subba owns the most wins in ONE history at nine, which is also a flyweight record.
In addition, he has competed in 10 flyweight bouts – the most of any man in ONE to date – and is the proud owner of the fastest knockout and finish in ONE flyweight history with his 20-second destruction of Thanh Vu.
Most recently, he earned back-to-back unanimous decision victories over a pair of former world title challengers, first Brazil’s Yago Bryan in September 2016, and then Japan’s Riku Shibuya in August 2017. Now, if he can get his third consecutive victory over another former world title challenger in McLaren, he rightfully makes the jump to world title challenger himself.
The Route To Victory
Every athlete aims to end his or her match inside the ONE cage as fast as possible, and though McLaren would love to stop his Malaysian adversary in the opening round, he expects they will need the judges to separate them.
The Australian does, however, believe his quickness will come into play, and ultimately give him the win.
“I think I may have a speed advantage, but I feel like I have that against almost everyone,” he says. “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.”
Subba acknowledges his opponent’s speed, as well as his furious style and grappling expertise. He foresees McLaren will be relentless with his offensive attack, and while the Kuala Lumpur native is constantly working on all facets of the game, he believes his striking will be the difference-maker.
“I have seen a couple of matches where he gets rocked a lot, and then goes for the takedown. So I feel like when I land [my shots], he is going to feel it,” Subba says.
“Obviously, I am trying to make my game more well-rounded. I have faced a lot of grapplers in the past, and yeah, I feel like I can neutralize him. I feel like at 61kg, if I hit anybody, they are going to feel it, and they are going to be hurt.”
Geje Eustaquio, ONE Interim Flyweight World Champion
“McLaren has to play it intelligently. He has to bring his best to Subba. He needs to push the pace every second. He is a great athlete, but this is martial arts — everybody has a chance. Subba is a great athlete too. Both of them can win. It is up to who brings the best game plan and the greatest preparation.
“I am excited to see who has the better game plan, and how they are going to execute it. I am excited to see their development, and compare it to mine.”
Michael Schiavello, ONE Championship Lead Commentator
“McLaren is even more dangerous here [at flyweight] than he was at bantamweight. He does not look as drained. He looks happier and more explosive, if that is even possible. That is like saying dynamite looks even more explosive!
“This is a huge chance for Subba to throw himself into world title contention. He has to be smart, curb McLaren’s aggression that is going to come at him early, try to pick him apart, and slow the match and frustrate him. Frustrating the Aussie, and taking him out of his physical and mental rhythm, may be the key to victory here.”
Mitch Chilson, Broadcast Commentator And Former ONE Athlete
“We have watched Subba advance in ONE Championship. We all know he has one-punch knockout power and a good submission game. However, his last five matches have been up to the judges, and because of that, he has gained valuable experience and put his time in. Now he climbs to the top of the food chain, and he gets a shot at the number one contender spot.
“With a world-class pedigree in grappling, McLaren will need to use his smooth takedowns to control the explosive Subba. His ability to slide under punches and glide into his beautiful double leg takedown makes him a formidable threat to anyone wanting to stand and trade. I would not be surprised though, if McLaren decides to show off his striking, and prove once and for all that he is more than just a one-trick pony.”