The Australian – who will face Aleksi “The Giant” Toivonen in the co-main event of ONE: REIGN OF DYNASTIES on Friday, 9 October – cites his coach, Vincent Perry, as the driving force throughout his journey to becoming one of the world’s top flyweight mixed martial artists.
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McLaren actually started on his martial arts path under the guidance of Vincent’s brother, Joe, at Kachi MMA in Toowoomba, which is about 125 kilometers west of Brisbane.
There, “Lightning” got his first taste of success as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor by rolling through opponents as a white belt.
But when he got the itch to diversify his skill set and compete in mixed martial arts, the aspiring star knew he needed to broaden his horizons.
To help his young student prepare for the well-rounded opponents he’d face in his new sport, Joe took McLaren to his brother’s gym, Potential Unlimited Mixed Martial Arts (PUMMA), just outside of the City of Gold Coast.
The round trip was almost 400 kilometers, but the time on the road was worth it, and “Lightning” was soon making the journey regularly.
“Joe brought me down to PUMMA to train with all the boys down here and meet Vinny for a little bit,” McLaren says.
“I’d try to come down every weekend and train, just to get different training partners. The only thing that was lacking in Toowoomba were training partners and a full-time gym.”
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The old adage that “iron sharpens iron” applied at PUMMA, where McLaren’s work with new teammates helped take his skills to the next level.
However, the instruction he received from Vincent had a more profound effect on his development. He instantly appreciated his coach’s depth of martial arts knowledge – particularly with regards to “the gentle art.”
As soon as he began to tap into that fountain of BJJ wisdom, McLaren noticed the exponential evolution of his ground game.
“I just saw the knowledge that he had in this game, and just how long he’s been in the game,” the 29-year-old says.
“I wanted to learn more jiu-jitsu and he was one of the only black belts. Back then, there were only four or five black belts in Queensland, and he was there.
“He has heaps of body intelligence drills and proprioception drills, so it’s all about connecting the body with the mind and coordination. From there, everything just snowballed.
“He’s so smart. He can see something and break it down into a fine science and teach it to everyone.”
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McLaren and Perry quickly formed a close and collaborative relationship as the fighter made waves on the Australian mixed martial arts circuit by winning the XFC and Eternal MMA Bantamweight Championships.
The duo would dissect previous performances, prepare game plans, and shape “Lightning’s” training regime in an effort to make him an athlete who could take on the world’s best.
Due to that successful relationship, McLaren made the full-time move to PUMMA in 2015, shortly before signing with ONE Championship.
From there, his career continued to blossom. He got off to a strong start in the Circle with impressive victories over Mark “Mugen” Striegl and Muin “Tajik” Gafurov while also being awarded his black belt. A few months later, he got a shot at Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes for the ONE Bantamweight World Title.
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All that success could go to a young athlete’s head, but McLaren says he’s always kept his eyes on the prize – a mindset that’s been strengthened by working with Perry.
“He’s hard but fair. He’ll tell you, ‘No,’ and that’s quite powerful. It keeps you honest,” McLaren says.
“For me, he’s never had to [give me a reality check]. I’m always motivated. He’s lucky with me that I don’t need much drive. If he asks something of me, I want to do it, basically.
“He’s probably the most consistent and reliable person I’ve ever met. I hold myself to his standards – his reliability and his consistency keep me reliable.”
Following McLaren’s success at bantamweight, he’s continued to improve as a mixed martial artist while establishing himself as one of the best flyweight competitors in the world.
In fact, he’s now the #5-ranked flyweight contender in ONE’s Athlete Rankings, but he’ll have his hands full against the undefeated Toivonen on Friday.
Fortunately, he’ll also have Perry in his corner. And while “Lightning” has never lacked role models in his life, he’s glad to have such a positive influence within the martial arts world.
“I just respect him so much. He’s like a father figure,” McLaren says of Perry.
“He’s given me some great life advice when I’ve needed it. He’s kept me very goal-oriented and on-point. I don’t think I’d be half the person or martial artist I am today [without him].”