Reece McLaren came into ONE Championship as a last minute replacement and stunned Manila by submitting Mark Striegl. The Australian is now a veteran of ten fights for the promotion and has been tried and tested against the top fighters at both bantamweight and flyweight.

He gave Bibiano Fernandes arguably the hardest fight of the Brazilian’s ONE Championship career. And McLaren was very unfortunate to find himself on the wrong end of another split decision defeat against Danny Kingad last year.

The Australian, who faces Aleksi Toivonen next Friday at ONE: ‘Reign of Dynasties’, has been in some real wars. He will be fighting for the first time since December but says he has used the time to good effect,

“I just kept doing what I do. I always run and do lots of visualization and lots of studying, just watching and watching and watching.”

ONE Championship

Rapid improvements

McLaren feels that he made some rapid improvements during his fighting career. But he says the time off has given him the opportunity to focus on a few aspects of the game he might have overlooked while constantly preparing to compete,

“I made a few leaps and bounds in a few aspects of mixed martial arts so it definitely made me go back, slow things down and study positions more.”

McLaren is coming off a submission win over Gary Mangat at ONE: ‘Mark of Greatness’ last December. He will be looking to make it back to back wins and warns Toivonen to expect,

“A better, improved me. In the last six months I’ve made some massive, massive gains.”

ONE Championship

Either way

However McLaren will not be underestimating an opponent who is undefeated in MMA. His research into Toivonen sounds extensive,

“He looks strong and he looks like he takes the back really well. He grapples very well. Being a European champion, that’s a great achievement. I know the grappling circuit in Europe is very high-level. They get all the big guns going to the Europeans, so that means he’s a very good grappler.”

McLaren holds a black belt in BJJ so is understandably confident in his own grappling abilities. But he thinks it will be a mistake to assume the outcome will be determined by who has the superior submission game,

“I think it could go either way. It’s either going to be a stand-up battle as the two grapplers equal each other, or it’s going to turn into a massive grappling match. I’m a mixed martial artist, so wherever I can take it to have the edge, I’ll take it there.”

ONE Championship

Next in line

Adriano Moraes and Demetrious Johnson are slated to fight for the flyweight title later this year. With both men based in the US there are several Covid-19 obstacles that will need to be overcome for the promotion to make the fight.

But McLaren believes he could be in the mix if either man withdraws and the Australian feels he could potentially establish himself as the next in line with a win next Friday,

“Honestly, you go back to a year ago and I was slated to fight for the belt, so I believe I’m one or two wins away from having my name there as a replacement if Demetrious or Moraes get hurt.”

However he isn’t making any predictions ahead of Friday’s fight beyond promising fans that there will be fireworks,

“I don’t like to predict because everyone sounds cocky in predictions. So, all I can say is it’s going to be an exciting match, and tune in.”