Last December, Reece “Lightning” McLaren (9-4) entered the biggest bout of his career, as he squared off against ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano Fernandes for the belt on the back of four consecutive victories.
After five rounds of battle, the Australian, and likely a fair portion of the viewing world, believed he did enough to become the new champion. But alas, it was not meant to be, as he lost a narrow split decision to the reigning bantamweight kingpin.
“I did not do enough, I guess,” the 25-year-old challenger laments, eight months removed from the fateful decision.
McLaren tested Fernandes like no one else in ONE Championship had done before. The bout was considered the second-best of 2016, and McLaren even won the match on one of the judge’s scorecards.
“Lightning” has been patiently waiting for another chance ever since, yearning for another opportunity to showcase his elite abilities. But that does not mean he has been sitting idly, though.
In fact, most of his time out of competition has been spent improving inside the gym. The disappointment of a decision going against him could not keep the Queensland resident away from the Gold Coast’s Potential Unlimited Mixed Martial Arts.
“I have improved at everything,” the 25-year-old Gold Coast, Australia-based athlete says. “That comes from day-in, day-out just being there in the gym. Your timing gets better. You start seeing things differently. You get a few different training partners who help you out in new areas.”
However, even though the PUMMA athlete’s world-class skills have been shown to the world, and he now has the distinction of being a former title challenger, he still seems to carry with him the status of the underdog.
“It is a funny one,” he begins. “I guess it is an Aussie thing. We are always the underdog, and that is alright. It makes us ripe for the win. We always get counted out in every situation, but I like being counted out.”
In fact, McLaren has become famed throughout his career for proving the naysayers wrong. It is likely due to his immense drive and determination.
All throughout McLaren’s life and martial arts journey, he has stayed the course, undeterred, even when others around him have strayed. From his interest sparked by watching Jackie Chan movies as a 14-year-old, to his first dojo experiences, the Aussie has never faltered.
“I was always interested in martial arts,” he remembers. “I started with kung fu, and then was slowly introduced to more disciplines. Interest in martial arts was pretty rare here, back then. My buddies and I would have a lot of fun on YouTube watching the bouts, though.
“We would all get together, and then started trying things out on concrete until we found a real club to train at.”
“Lightning” remembers that first outing to a martial arts gym rather vividly. “It was pretty daunting,” the Australian admits. “I did not know anyone at the gym. It was just me and my friend. Then, two weeks later, he stopped going.”
McLaren continued going, and stayed the course. While his group of friends often imitated the martial arts techniques they saw on TV, and dreamed about training together inside the gym, “Lightning” was the only one who put his thoughts into action.
Unlike his friends, he developed a true passion for martial arts.
“I think whatever you love, you have to have passion to continue doing it,” he explains. “Martial arts is a universal language. That is what I love about it. You can go anywhere in the world, and people will understand you.”
Now, this passionate martial artist and BJJ black belt has an international professional career. thanks to his dedication and constant improvement. And although he fell on the wrong side of a decision back in December, he can sit back, hold his head up high, and take away a couple of positives from his title challenge.
“My fitness was good,” he acknowledges. “Now, I know I can go 25 minutes. This next time, I will only have to go 15 minutes, so I am set.”
While “The Silencer” also fell to Fernandes in 2016, he has recovered strongly. He also recently defeated Muin Gafurov, and at ONE: KINGS OF DESTINY in April, he battered Toni “Dynamite” Tauru into verbal submission.
Both Belingon and McLaren desperately want a rematch against Fernandes, and the Australian is of the opinion that the winner of this highly anticipated contest should get the next title shot.
“He (Belingon) looks like he has good balance and good takedown defense on the cage. His stand-up striking is obviously phenomenal,” the Aussie acknowledges. “We are the only two that have defeated the other bantamweights in the top five. We definitely deserve another title shot.”
McLaren may assume the underdog role yet again, but if he once agains proves his mettle and defeats the Filipino star, then he could very well get the title rematch he has been longing for.
“Hopefully, this bout goes well, and we can do the rematch later,” says McLaren. “I would love a quick turnaround. I am ready. Let’s keep it going.”