Australian Reece McLaren returns to action at ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY looking to book his spot in a world title bout later in the year.
McLaren was originally set to face ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes, but injury to the champion forced a change of plan, with McLaren now facing Gianni Subba in a title eliminator. The bout takes place as the main event in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, 9 March.
McLaren will be competing in the metropolis of KL, but his journey started on Christmas Island, an Australian territory just off the coast of Indonesia. It was a time and a place that held many happy memories for him.
“It was phenomenal. I cannot express how great it was,” the 26-year-old Filipino-Australian told ONE Championship in a revealing interview.
“You would just go outside and hitchhike down to the beach. As a kid, the freedom was incredible. There was no risk of anything. If someone stole your wallet, you would know who it was, go to the basketball courts and ask for it back, and there it was.”
His idyllic life on the island was to be short lived. With work in short supply, the family ended up moving back to mainland Australia after McLaren graduated from high school.
“We were not in a great financial position when we left, because the work had dried up that much,” he explained.
“We were in that bad of a position that we could not even afford school.
“Luckily, I had worked. I am like a work dog, so I worked and worked, and had enough money to pay for school myself. I finished year 12 on my own money.”
Before he moved to the mainland, he’d already been bitten by the martial arts bug. While working at a local airport, McLaren was introduced to the head of security, who in turn introduced him to Muay Thai and BJJ.
“Basically, me finding this sport was a bit of luck,” he said.
“A guy that happened to work at the airport had done a lot of stuff in Canada. He introduced [me and my friends] to the sport, and it all got started. Then, when I moved to the mainland, it really kicked off.”
The family moved again, this time to a small town in South East Queensland, where McLaren’s stepdad got a job at a corrections centre.
“It was interesting,” he said.
“The country folk are a unique breed. I went from an island where I was the only Australian in a class, to now being the only, I guess, Asian. I went from one extreme to another. It thickens your skin.”
McLaren soon found a home to train his martial arts skills, initially training at Kachi MMA in nearby Toowoomba, then adding to his education by driving three hours each weekend to Potential Unlimited Mixed Martial Arts (PUMMA) for extra lessons.
The two gyms were headed by brothers Joseph and Vincent Perry, but despite the excellent training offered at Joseph’s Kachi MMA, McLaren knew his future belonged on the Gold Coast at Vincent’s PUMMA gym.
It meant another move, but this time it was one McLaren undertook himself.
“I just thought, ‘I can do this.’ I backed myself,” he said.
“I finished my apprenticeship, shipped myself off to America for about a month [to train at Team Alpha Male], then came back and moved to the Gold Coast. I moved into my mate’s shed, and the rest is history.”
He described his first place on the Gold Coast as “a literal shed” but it gave him the base he needed to launch his martial arts career.
Since then, he’s worked his way up the ranks to establish himself as one of the most exciting stars of ONE Championship, where having already challenged for the ONE Bantamweight Title, he now stands just one win away from a second title shot, this time for the ONE Flyweight World Title.
“This is what I have been dreaming of since day dot, to become a world champion,” he says.
“This is my second opportunity to do so. I fell short the first time, but now I am gunning even harder for it.”