After world title heartbreak, Australia’s Reece McLaren is on the comeback trail, with his sights set on world championship glory in a new weight class.
Upon his promotional debut, “Lightning” quickly rose through the ranks of ONE Championship’s bantamweight division to earn a shot at dominant titleholder Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes.
Despite heading into that title bout on an impressive run of form, McLaren fell just short, losing out to the Brazilian by split decision after a gripping five-round battle in December 2016.
Determined to bounce straight back into title contention once more, McLaren took on the dangerous Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS in Kuala Lumpur, but saw his title dreams crushed in just 62 seconds.
The Filipino-Australian looked to push the pace, but was perfectly countered by Belingon, who dropped McLaren with a right hand, then finished him with ground-and-pound.
It was the most damaging loss of McLaren’s career.
“I left my heart in Kuala Lumpur. I am still pretty devastated about it,” he admitted. “It is a hard one to take a lot away from. If anything, [my team and I] have always looked at someone’s strengths and stayed away from it.
“Not disrespecting him or anything, it was just that I should not have kicked. I did not do a lot wrong. I mean, it was an ugly punch that hit me, but it hit me, so it worked.
“Losing happens. It is a part of [the game], and you’ve got to take it in stride. You’ve got to learn from it and grow from it.”
McLaren went back to the drawing board with his team at Potential Unlimited Mixed Martial Arts in Gold Coast, Queensland, and after much thought, they made the decision that McLaren would move down to the flyweight division. There, he would compete in a more natural weight class against athletes of a similar size.
“I was making bantamweight too easily, and we feel like I always should have been competing as a flyweight. So why not challenge ourselves even more?” he explains.
“I have never been held down or dominated because of being small. I felt comfortable at 65kg, but I always knew that I could make 61kg, so the time to do it is now. Being on a two-bout skid, I have to change it up.
“There is a time when you have got to put your career way up above everything, and I am sacrificing everything now to be here. Well, sacrificing a little bit more now because of the weight.”
McLaren will make his divisional debut as a flyweight at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD when he takes on Thailand’s Anatpong “Mak Mak” Bunrad at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines on 10 November.
It’s an opportunity for McLaren to hit the reset button on his career, but he has no plans on plotting a gradual ascent to the title. He wants to gatecrash the division and challenge for the belt within just a few bouts.
“I am not very good at waiting in line,” he stated. “I would like one or two more matches at this weight, just to get my weight program down, before we have a shot at the belt.”
A strong performance and an impressive win in Manila would be a significant first step.