New Zealand light heavyweight Carlos Ulberg (4-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) isn't expecting an easy night against Tafon Nchukwi (6-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC) at UFC on ESPN 38, but he is expecting to have his hand raised when it's all over.
"It's going to be a war!" predicts the 31-year-old. "I've seen (Tafon) fight, and he comes from a great gym. But the one thing I know is that he is gonna wake up on Sunday morning, sore, 6-3, and wishing he hadn't signed to fight me."
It's clear Ulberg gained a lot of confidence in his previous bout, a decision win over Fabio Cherant at UFC 271 that took his own MMA record to 6-1.
"I'd never gone three rounds like that, so it was really good for me," he explains. "I had to get familiar with the crowd and get comfortable in the octagon. It was something I wanted to achieve, and I did it."
Having reached the UFC so early in his mixed martial arts career, the former professional kickboxer doesn't underestimate the importance of becoming familiar with what is a very different arena to the one he previously knew.
"It's a bit like starting a new school. The more days you go, the more comfortable you get. Also, the more you start to express yourself. So, the longer I'm out there, the more you will really see the 'Black Jag'!"
Ulberg, who has also been a fashion model and a semi-pro footballer, has already lived a few different lives. However, the Auckland-born fighter is finding that life in the UFC seems to agree with him best of all, especially the training camps.
"MMA is a fight sport, but it's a lifestyle, too – it makes you want to better yourself as a person. I'm always sharpening my skills in different areas, like wrestling, judo or taekwondo.
"At some stage, I'll be coming up against the guys at the very top, and I'll need to be ready. So, I'm working hard and I'm working fast. Someday soon, you will see me in that top five."
If social media is anything to go by, Ulberg is already gaining popularity with female viewers, with some fans even joking that when he fights, their wives or girlfriends suddenly become more interested in MMA.
The Kiwi prospect is amused when told about this.
"It's funny. I was out one time and a guy asked me to pose for a photo with his partner. He wanted me to kiss her in the picture. (Laughs) I thought, ‘This is interesting.'"
He continues, more seriously, "I am starting to get noticed more around New Zealand. As a kid, you dream of being famous, but you don't realize what comes with it. That when you go to the shop, everyone has eyes on you. You go to the restaurant and people know who you are. Then you'd rather just be rich and not famous! But nah, I love it, it comes with the territory."
After Ulberg's win against Cherant, he spent some time at Freestyle MMA with UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski. It seems the sharing of knowledge and skills between the Australian and New Zealand fighters is at an all-time high…
"Yeah, it was a great trip. Alex is very inspiring to be around. He's a great leader in his gym and community. It was really good seeing the way he works.
"The vibe back home at City Kickboxing is really good at the moment, too. Everybody is getting fights. We're all training and shedding blood, sweat and tears together. There's never been a better time to be at the gym."
In the past, Ulberg has talked about being a big fan of meditation, and regular sessions remain a part of his preparation for the bout with Tafon Nchukwi at UFC on ESPN: Tsarukyan vs Gamrot.
"Meditation really helps me – I think everyone should do it. It helps me to focus, think about that day, think about the past, and to get myself ready for what's next."
Hearing that, we can't resist asking how he is visualizing the war with Nchukwi.
"I don't see him lasting two rounds with me. That's just how I see it going down."
This story first published at UFC.com.