Toowoomba based fighter Reece McLaren challenges Ben Nguyen for the Nitro bantamweight title this weekend. The BJJ Purple Belt brings a 7-2 MMA record into the bout and earlier this year captured the Eternal MMA bantamweight title. The 23-year-old youngster trains predominantly at the Kachi MMA gym but also splits his training sessions at Potential Unlimited MMA (PUMMA) and Empire MMA.
With fight-week upon us, we caught up with McLaren for an interview.
Fight News Australia: Reece, thanks for the interview. A week out of your Nitro bout against Ben Nguyen. How are you feeling?
Reece McLaren: I’m feeling great, fit and ready, this week is about the weight. Once that’s done its happy times.
Fight News Australia: Has training eased off now or will you still be look a having a couple hard sessions before the job of seriously making weight begins?
Reece McLaren: I like to have my last hard day to be Monday or Tuesday. No sparring or anything. I think training smart is the most important part of fight camps. Having the right training partners and coaches. We will probably just do a pad session and a light run. Nothing new. Something we have been doing, stacks of little fine tuning and game planning, or battle planning if you will.
Fight News Australia: For those that may not know much about you, tell us how did you first get involved in Martial Arts?
Reece McLaren: So, I was very fortunate to grow up on a small isolated island in the middle of the Indian ocean called Christmas Island. I was born in Brisbane. I’m not a refugee, and yes I have been asked. Anyway, one of my friends dad used to run the local KFC, (Kung Fu Club) and I did a bit of that breaking some concrete blocks along the way. Then a guy by the name of Ian Joyce came along and he was head of security for the local airport, which I was working at. He had been involved with Muay Thai in Canada and was a fan of MMA. He introduced the UFC and BJJ to me he showed us all bits and pieces. His Muay Thai was awesome. So all of us would get together and muck around at the KFC sparing and rolling on concrete. Good fun. When the family decided to move, I had to find a place to train and learn.
Fight News Australia: Being on a small island, I’m assuming that numbers were fairly small? Did anyone else that trained at the Kung-Fu place end up competing in MMA?
Reece McLaren: Numbers were very limited. Though when the boys would come back from their studies in Perth we all would get together and spar. Well we thought we could spar, A few of my mates now train BJJ on occasion. But no one else has fought MMA. The Kung Fu place was more for training our Lion Dance performances and the uncles gave me a key to open. I guess I abused it a little and would open for everyone to spar and much around with the cool swords.
Fight News Australia: Did you play any other sports growing up?
Reece McLaren: Growing up on a small island whatever sport was available, I played. It varied from volleyball to AFL. Soccer though, I played soccer for a long time. I also played Rugby League when we moved. That was fun, I didn’t know what I was doing. I played on the wing but by mid season they had me playing full back.
Fight News Australia: These days, what other hobbies do you enjoy doing?
Reece McLaren: Things away from Martial Arts that I like doing include having fun. Anything that could be fun I’ll be there. Skating (Hopefully coach does not read this), surfing, and most sports really.
Fight News Australia: Do you remember the first MMA fight/event you ever watched and what were your immediate thoughts when viewing it?
Reece McLaren: Yeah I absolutely do, It was an IFL event, I thought it was awesome but didn’t really look into what it was till I was introduced to UFC. UFC 56 Rich Franklin vs Nate Quarry I was an instant fan. Ian gave me the season three of the ultimate fighter and I was hooked I had to find a place and learn everything that was grappling.
Fight News Australia: It’s hard to forget the knock-out in the Rick Franklin vs Nate Quarry fight.
Reece McLaren: Spectacular really.
Fight News Australia: You are based in Toowoomba which had a striving Marital Arts scene in the early days of Australian MMA with local promotion King of the Mountain holding regular shows. How is the Toowoomba MMA scene going these days?
Reece McLaren: I think the game has changed and a lot of gyms up this way didn’t change with it. As for the show, I think there are so many now, there is no real point on bringing it back.
Fight News Australia: Is there any interest in having professional MMA return back to Toowoomba?
Reece McLaren: It would be nice, but Toowoomba is a strange place. It’s big but its hard to get locals to support it. Maybe now that there are local fighters that people want to see? It might be a good time to have a show up this way.
Fight News Australia: Is there any young fighters coming through the ranks at your gym Kachi MMA that people should keep an eye out on?
Reece McLaren: We do! Zac Talbot, once he comes back from his little knee injury and another one is Tyson Myles. Both are young and constantly improving. It’s really an exciting time for us.
Fight News Australia: Who on the local and international scene do you enjoy watching the most?
Reece McLaren: On the Local scene I like watching my team mates, everyone from PUMMA and Empire and on the international scene I’m a huge Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson fan. TJ Dillashaw is awesome to watch guys with good wrestling and foot work. I have like 100 fighters in my top 10 favourites.
Fight News Australia: I want to go back to your 2013 fight against Jacob Mahony. You were defending your Fightworld Cup bantamweight title and looked to be in control before being submitted in the last 30-seconds of the bout. You took a lengthy break after the bout. Was there a specific reason?
Reece McLaren: Yes, in this fight, I made a bad error and Mahony capitalised, taking my back and submitted me. I was going to take some time off even if I won, to just wrestle. I competed a lot in BJJ and wrestling. It gave me some time as well to do some more boxing. I dare say I feel like I came back way better. I was scheduled to fight last year but it fell through so we all decided to just wait till this year. “Hit it with a big stick.”
Fight News Australia: You returned and won back-to-back bouts in Eternal MMA against Kian Pham and Shantaram Maharaj. You defeated Pham via TKO and Maharaj via Submission. Which one was more satisfying and why?
Reece McLaren: I think the Kian fight at first. He was a name and by far the most dangerous and experienced opponent I had fought. To finish him early in the second but then afterwards it come out he was sick and stuff so it took a lot away. Becoming a title holder again was nice though. I feel like every title I’ve fought for I’ve earned it, except this time. Such an opportunity, I have a long life goal to fight and compete against the best, so for me the best is a plus.
Fight News Australia: No doubt you ultimately are aiming at getting a shot in the UFC or on an international promotion, but locally what are you goal in the Aussie MMA scene?
Reece McLaren: I just want to fight the best. And hopefully beat the best. I let my fighting do the talking really. Win the titles that will attract the best.
Fight News Australia: Your name has been thrown around at moving to flyweight previously or is bantamweight the division you will be looking at staying in?
Reece McLaren: Oh that damn flyweight division, it seems to be haunting me. A lot of people have told me, that weight is the ideal weight for me. But I’ve had some pretty good success at bantamweight. If the fight is right I would love to take it and make the drop.
Fight News Australia: On to your opponent next weekend. Ben Nguyen has been on a good run since making his debut in Australia. Have you seen much footage of him and are your general thoughts on his game?
Reece McLaren: Ben is real good. He’s had the one opportunity that we all haven’t. He trains full time and was over in Tiger Muay Thai with all the awesome coaching staff there. I have seen bits and pieces. I was in Julz’s corner that night, so got to see him fight up close. We have competed four times against each other in grappling tournaments. Its no secret what I’m going to do. But this is MMA so anything could happen.
Fight News Australia: Nguyen last fought Julian “Julz The Jackal” Rabaud and spectacularly stopped him within seconds of the fight. Did you at all expect the fight to end so quickly and the way it did?
Reece McLaren: No. Did anyone? I think Julz got caught. Well Ben caught Julz with a nice counter off the big right. Ben looked pretty good, but this time is different because I’m not Julz.
Fight News Australia: Do you have a prediction on how the fight will end?
Reece McLaren: I think its going to be a war of nutrition. May the fitter, smarter person win.
Fight News Australia: How excited are to making your debut in Nitro?
Reece McLaren: I am super excited! Nitro is the show everyone wants to fight on and I’m fighting the best guy holding the title. Winning a title on Nitro can only put the biggest target on your back. To be the guy everyone wants to beat, easiest way to attract the best. Almost perfect!
Fight News Australia: Being one of the last bouts on the card, it’s unlikely you will get to enjoy the fights beforehand but is there another bout on the card that you are particularly interested in?
Reece McLaren: The Brentin Mumford vs Alex MacDonald fight interests me. The match between the Morris’s (Luke & Chris) should be a good one as well. The whole card is up there as one of the best this year for sure.
Fight News Australia: Any predictions for the lightweight title bout between Gokhan Turkyilmaz and Isaac Tisdell?
Reece McLaren: Very Interesting fight. I think the guy who fights the smartest will win this one.
Fight News Australia: On the topic of Australian MMA, if you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing that you would change?
Reece McLaren: With my magic wand I would make them sanction the use of the cage in Melbourne.
Fight News Australia: You might need a few of those magic wands to make it happen. Frustrating when people who obviously have no knowledge of the sport are making decisions that impact the local MMA community.
Reece McLaren: Yeah, I think when it hits Melbourne we will see a huge rise in popularity of MMA in Australia. Or which ever show gets a deal with a TV channel. Interesting time if that happens.
Fight News Australia: Just to finish off, five years from now, where do you see yourself within the sport?
Reece McLaren: Just to finish off, five years from now I would love to be in the UFC. I think it’s very possible.
Fight News Australia: Thanks for your time Reece, any people you would like to thank?
Reece McLaren: I would like to firstly thank Scott Ferris from Nitro MMA for this awesome opportunity! Fight News Australia for this interview you guys do a great job. Ben Ngyuen for taking on this fight! I heard a rumour he wanted to drop to his more natural weight class flyweight? And all my coaching staff and training partners. You guys know who you are – Thank you. Thanks to my sponsors Advanced Fight Gear, D.E. Collective and Badger Honey. Oh and Twix.