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Throwback Thursday: Reece McLaren’s BJJ Black Belt Promotion

May 21, 2020

Reece “Lightning” McLaren earned his reputation as one of the leading submission specialists in ONE Championship with his incredible Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills.

The Gold Coast resident has tapped out four of his opponents in six victories on the global stage, and eight over the course of his 13 career wins.

He learned his craft through countless hours on the mat, and in September 2016, he was awarded a BJJ black belt by his coaches Vincent and Joe Perry.

The occasion was extra special because one of the sport’s icons, Rigan Machado — who is the head coach of Machado BJJ, and its regional organization Will/Machado BJJ Australasia – was in attendance.



“I honestly didn’t think I would be getting my black belt that day,” McLaren recalls.

“We had a scheduled Rigan Machado seminar up in Queensland and I just thought it would be a sweet opportunity to learn something from him.

“I had done a seminar with him a couple of years back, and trained down in Geelong in one of his classes and it was phenomenal, so I couldn’t miss out on the chance to train with him again.”

McLaren spent several hours learning from the Brazilian legend, and then later, he was surprised with his belt promotion at the end of the seminar.

It was an unforgettable moment for the Aussie star, but he also remembers how the timing made for an interesting storyline of its own.

He was scheduled to face ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes — one of the greatest BJJ practitioners who has ever donned the 4-ounce gloves — for the title at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION in December, and now, just like his opponent, he was a black belt in “the gentle art,” too.

“My coach thought I was a bit overdue for the belt,” the 28-year-old says.

“We were lining up to fight Bibiano, so he also thought to award me the black belt on that day so I could send a message out to the world that it wasn’t going to be a brown belt fighting a black belt — it would be black belt on black belt, which I was all down for.”

BJJ is arguably the toughest martial art in the world in which to attain the rank, and only a very small percentage of practitioners make it that far, so “Lightning” was thrilled to join an elite group.

“It’s a pretty surreal feeling getting that belt wrapped around your waist,” he continues. “For me, it feels like a quality check — you must be up to a certain quality.”

The journey from white belt to black belt took six years, which is quicker than most to achieve. But “Lightning” sacrificed a lot to be a full-time athlete and pursue his passions, and his impeccable work ethic paid off.

Despite the mammoth effort it took to reach that point, McLaren did not see it as an end in itself. He took the opposite view and saw it as a fresh start in his life as a martial artist.

“Honestly, for me, the black belt is nothing. It’s part of the journey, but it’s nowhere near the finish line or anything. Really, it’s the start,” he offers.

“John Will (operational head of Will/Machado BJJ Australasia) said that when he got his black belt, Rigan pulled him aside and said, ‘Okay, now I can finally teach you jiu-jitsu.’”

Still, McLaren concedes that life as a black belt is a whole different world compared to his early days in the sport, but that came gradually through his daily commitment to improvement.

Reece McLaren looks at the referee with his mouthguard showing

The Aussie does not know everything, and he never will, but he has honed his ability to learn more effectively in the grappling art. Because of that, he is consistently adding to his vast arsenal.

That makes “Lightning” a renewed threat to the top order of ONE Championship’s flyweight division every time he steps inside the Circle with upgraded software.

“For me, it’s like a computer system, and now I can see the program, see what it is, and instantly be able to do it,” he explains.

“It sounds a little bit weird, and I don’t want to sound cocky, but I remember being a white belt and I would see the technique, and then I would have to drill it to remember it.

“Now, it’s like I can see it, and I can instantly go off and do it against anyone. It doesn’t matter what their rank is!”

Read more: Tip Tuesday: Bibiano Fernandes’ 3 Rules For Success In BJJ