The biggest opportunity of Reece McLaren’s MMA career arrived suddenly and unexpectedly. Eight days before ONE: ‘Spirit of Champions’ he got a call from Asia’s biggest MMA promotion asking if he would be interested in taking on rising Filipino star Mark Striegl in Manila.

Most fighters spend several months preparing for every bout but the opportunity to fight in front of 20,000 fans in the biggest indoor arena in the Philippines doesn’t come around too often and McLaren did not need to be asked twice.

“I had no hesitation at all, I knew this was my chance to fight internationally and I was fit. About 8 days before the event I saw they had the pull out and pretty much the next day we had emails sent and negotiation pretty much started. By Friday it was confirmed.”

The timing for the 24 year old was fortuitous. Although he hadn’t been expecting to fight the following week McLaren was already preparing for a bout and was in good enough condition to be confident of performing to something approaching his potential the following week,

“I was in pretty good shape. We had thought I would be fighting around that time on a show against a highly rated fighter here in Australia and I think I was about three weeks out from peeking. I had only missed one set of hill sprints in the last six weeks, my weight was low and I was ready to go.”

McLaren would go on to put in the best performance of his entire career. He survived a major scare in the second round when Striegl dropped him with an elbow and followed up with a soccer kick but the Australian somehow survived and stepped up the pace in the final stanza.

Seldom can a fighter have enjoyed a grueling fight so much. In the third round McLaren could be seen sticking his tongue out and grinning broadly as he cranked on a submission.

Reece McLaren

I BELIEVE NO MATTER WHERE I GO I SHOULD BE DEEMED A CONTENDER FOR THE BELT.

“I felt my arm slip under his chin, I love guillotines and I think I was thinking I could finish Mark with one. His ground game is good and he escaped two of them,” he explained.

Striegl survived the submission attempts but eventually succumbed to a guillotine after a barrage of ground and pound from McLaren. Victory was particularly sweet for the promotional newcomer because it was the first time he had ever fought in the Philippines,

“My biological father is Filipino. Everyone was super warm and welcoming and I would love to come back and fight in the Mall of Asia Arena, the venue was the biggest I’ve ever competed in.”

It was McLaren’s third submission win in succession and took his overall record to 8-3. His name might not have been well known in Asia before the fight with Striegl but he was already one of the most decorated bantamweights in Australian MMA.

“I was fortunate to win three Titles in Australia. The Fight World Cup bantamweight title which I unfortunately was not able to successfully defend, the Eternal bantamweight title which I was able to defend and the XFC bantamweight title which I was going to defend but the promoter very kindly released me from my contract so I could compete for ONE FC. I also hold a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.”

Striegl was being strongly linked with a title shot and by beating him McLaren has successfully stolen some of that momentum. ONE Championship’s bantamweight division is stacked with talented fighters including up and coming challenger Muin Gafurov and champion Bibiano Fernandes.

The Australian can now consider himself in the mix and he already has one eye on the belt.

“I’m really happy with where this has placed me. I believe no matter where I go I should be deemed a contender for the belt. It’s just one of those things; you have to back yourself because no one wants to be just a filler. We all want to be the champion.”

At the age of just 24, the Australian has the MMA world at his feet. After winning three fights out of three in 2015 it looks set to be a big year for McLaren and he will be hoping to add a ONE Championship title to the collection.