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ONE 158: How humble beginnings set Reece McLaren up for success

'Lightning' primed to make a statement at Friday's event against Xie Wei at Singapore Indoor Stadium.
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Reece "Lightning" McLaren (14-8) is one of the most exciting athletes competing in ONE Championship today. The Australian dynamo always puts on a show, even in fights where victory may seem out of reach.

That mentality and attitude have led to 14 career wins, and the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt hopes to get another one at ONE 158.

This Friday, he squares off against China's top MMA flyweight "The Hunter" Xie Wei (14-3) at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

A victory would help McLaren maintain his grip on the No. 5-ranked flyweight MMA contender's spot. But before he became one of the hottest names in the division, "Lightning" had to endure a long road full of trials and tribulations.

McLaren was raised on Christmas Island, an Australian territory off the coast of Indonesia. He moved there with his mother, a single parent at the time, when he was only three years old.

There, his mother eventually met the love of her life. But despite having another breadwinner to support the youngster, the family was barely making ends meet. Nevertheless, his parents worked hard to provide McLaren with everything he needed, and it soon paid off when his stepdad secured a job back in mainland Australia.

"We were not in a great financial position when we left because the work had dried up that much. We were in that bad of a position that we could not even afford school," the Australian fighter said.

"Luckily, I had worked. I am like a work dog, so I worked and worked and had enough money to pay for school myself. I finished year 12 on my own money."

Maintaining his grades at school while having a job was no easy task. But McLaren witnessed the burden placed on his parents, and he was determined to help at all costs.

Thankfully for the youngster, he discovered martial arts through his job at a local airport before moving to South East Queensland.

"A guy that happened to work at the airport had done a lot of stuff in Canada," the Aussie said. "He introduced (me and my friends) to the sport, and it all got started. Then, when I moved to the mainland, it really kicked off."

Mixed martial arts, Mmuay Thai, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu were totally new to McLaren, but his thirst to excel was unmatched by any of his peers.

"Lightning" mainly trained at Kachi MMA in Toowoomba, and on Saturdays, he would drive three hours to hone his craft at Potential Unlimited Mixed Martial Arts in the Gold Coast. Eventually, the distance took a toll on McLaren, and his desire to expand his MMA knowledge meant that he was forced to move once again.

"I just thought, 'I can do this.' I backed myself," he recalled.

"I finished my apprenticeship, shipped myself off to America for about a month (to train at Team Alpha Male), then came back, and moved to the Gold Coast. I moved into my mate's shed, and the rest is history."

Pursuing martial arts during a time when the sport was still largely unheard of in Australia was a bold move. But his will to succeed pushed him onto the path he enjoys today. Sure, victories and defeats are part of the game. And after falling short via unanimous decision in his last outing to No. 3-ranked Yuya Wakamatsu, McLaren is fired up to flip the script and bag his 15th career win.

To ensure that he does, "Lightning" switched camps and now trains full-time with Australian striking legend John Wayne Parr at Boonchu Gym.

With a new coach and renewed focus, McLaren is determined to claim victory on Friday and inch closer to a match with ONE flyweight world champion Adriano Moraes.

"I'm not here to stand in no line," he said. "If they want to give me the opportunity to call anyone out, I'm definitely going to be calling out the champ."