Eternal MMA sits down with exclusively signed athlete – Lahclan “Deadshot” Stitt for a quick-fire Q&A ahead of his professional debut at Eternal 65.
Where were you born?
Where are you based now?
South West Sydney
What gym do you train out of?
XXX Fight Academy
Who are your coaches?
My head coach is Mohamed Mousalli – AKA Coach Moey (as well as) Nathan Reddy and Zein Saliba
Where does the ‘Deadshot’ nickname come from?
Moey gave me that, my head coach. Just from the way i finish fights, my accuracy and finishing abilities.
What sports and activities did you participate in growing up?
I started Karate when I was six years old and pretty much did that up until twelve. Then i started playing footy for a couple of years, got into MMA at about fifteen and have been on the same journey since.
When did you first decide to dedicate yourself to the sport of MMA?
I finished my trade as an electrician at the start of 2021. From that point forward I’ve pretty much committed my whole career to fighting. I do security on the weekend, run my own electrical business on the side and just fight/ train full time.
What can fans expect to see from you when you step inside the cage?
Expect violence and also a quick finish.
What do you see as your biggest strengths as a martial artist?
Definitely my striking – my striking accuracy.
Could you compare your style at present to a UFC athlete?
My style would be a mix between Jon Jones and Lyoto Machida. I have a karate background and I’ve adapted that to MMA.
Who is your favourite fighter at a professional level?
I get this question a fair bit at work. Definitely in his prime – Georges St-Pierre, all day long.
What belts or rankings do you currently posses as a martial artist?
I’m a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu under Zein Saliba.
What are some of the accolades you have achieved as a combat sports athlete?
I have two state titles – New South Wales titles. One in kickboxing and also an MMA state title. I won the Beast Australian Welterweight title mid last year – That was my last fight before turning pro.
What are your goals for both the immediate and long term future as a combat sports athlete?
Definitely work my way up the Eternal MMA rankings, get some good fights, stay active, get some good finishes and then get my shot at the UFC.
How do you see yourself getting your hand raised at Eternal 65?
Definitely a KO or TKO. I’m KO’ing this guy. I can definitely see that.
A message to the fans and your supporters?
Jump on board now, because I’m just gonna keep going at this. I think I have a very bright future in the sport of MMA and representing Australia world wide. We are going straight to the top.
– Lachlan makes his professional MMA debut on May 7th at Eternal 65 against JayJay Te Huia.
The resounding message was loud and clear from Jack Jenkins during the post fight formalities following his successful title defence at Eternal 64.
A dominant five-round display from the champion was punctuated with a statement of intent, as he took the opportunity on the microphone to remind the naysayers that this is just the beginning.
The consensus was that Rod Costa was going to be by far and away the biggest test for Jenkins up until this point in his professional career and at least on paper, that was an accurate assessment. What transpired in the cage however, painted somewhat of a different picture.
Let’s not get it twisted, Rod Costa is as high level as it comes in terms of what Eternal MMA and by extension, what Australian MMA in general has to offer. A world champion Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt with a much-improved striking base, coupled with an unwavering in-ring confidence and a recent catalogue of impressive wins, Rod Costa was the clear number one contender to Jenkins’ belt.
By the end of the night on March 19th we were reminded just how true the adage is – there are levels to this game. The sheer fact of the matter is, Jack Jenkins has evolved levels above his competition in Australia within his weight class. That’s not hyperbole – that is fact, proven with a superior display of technique, power, speed, cardio and fight IQ against one of the toughest veterans in the country.
From the opening bell until the closing curtains (save for a late takedown from the challenger in the final minute of the fight), it was all one-way traffic from the champion. The opening round provided early answers as to what direction the highly anticipated bout was going to take – elite level boxing from the champ seamlessly mixed in with patented calf kicks, constant stance switching, head movement and range management all had Costa on the back foot from the get-go.
For the viewers at home and at cage side, it was apparent that Jenkins had raised the bar in his striking game once again. Landing head and body shots at will, Jenkins put on a master class with his hands with deadly accuracy while never overexerting himself. The jab was precise, the combinations were ever present and the extensions on the body shots from both hands were a sight to behold, finding a home for them to the liver and rib cage of Costa on multiple occasions.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jack Jenkins fight without the use of devastating leg kicks to his opponent. It should be noted that prior to the fight, Costa went on record stating that he would never quit as a result of the heavy leg kicks he may endure from Jenkins. Credit to the Scrappy MMA product, he held true to his word, but by the end of round one it was clear that his lead leg was already severely compromised due to the onslaught of shots they had received from Jenkins.
The leg kicks would be a reoccurring theme through the remainder of the fight, with only the heart of Costa keeping him on his feet as both legs were severely damaged by Jenkins in each round. It was the perfect plan from Jenkins, the damage sustained by Costa to both legs would cause him to adopt a square posture in the later stages of the fight, seemingly without a lead leg in his stance for much of the remainder.
On the occasion that Costa was able to find himself a window of offence, it was largely dealt with by the slick head movement and distance management of Jenkins at almost every juncture. Takedown attempts were turned away with relative ease by the champion, thwarting any chance of Costa getting the fight to the ground where he is known to do his best work.
But therein lies another challenge for anyone who faces such a well rounded mixed martial artist as Jenkins. For as good as Costa is on the ground, it’s seemingly a matter of “pick your poison” when it comes to where the biggest threat lies when facing a man of Jenkins’ skill set. He doesn’t have any perceived weak spots in his game at this point in his career.
It wouldn’t be until the dying minutes of the final round before Jenkins found himself facing any kind of adversity from his opponent. The relentless will of Costa to battle through four and half rounds out on his feet saw him able to mount one final act of desperation with a takedown against the cage. It was a case of too little too late however, Jenkins merely had to cause a stalemate in the dying seconds as he cruised to a unanimous decision victory.
A country boy at heart, Jenkins was on the first flight back home to Victoria the morning after his title defence. The big city lights of the Gold Coast may set the perfect scene for the champion to show what he is made of in the cage, but it is back home in the quiet countryside where Jenkins finds himself again.
Now back in his hometown of Bacchus Marsh, Victoria – Jenkins was able to reflect on his performance from the serenity of his own home. Speaking with Eternal MMA, Jenkins cut a figure of calm confidence as he summed up his big win while setting his sights on the immediate future.
“My mindset hasn’t really changed from the immediacy after the fight through till now. It only took me five minutes after the fight before I turned to one of my friends and said, ‘this is want I want to do, I need to get back to training by Wednesday-Thursday and start getting ready for whatever’s next.’
“My attitude hasn’t really changed on (my outlook on the fight) since the fight itself to be honest. I’m really happy with that performance, but this is just the start for me so there’s no time to take the foot off the gas, so it’s just straight (back) into it.”
The challenge that was put in front of Jenkins at Eternal 64 came as nothing as surprise to himself or his team. Rod Costa has made a name for himself as being one of the hardest opponents to put away in the sport, a prospect the champion was more that ready to deal with.
“It played out pretty much exactly as my coaches prepared me for, to be honest,” said Jenkins.
“We (our team) spoke and we knew Rod was tough and wasn’t going to go away easily, so we trusted in the fact that my conditioning would hold out for the full five rounds – If I needed to take it to the end of the fifth, I would still be there and still be able to stick to my game plan, which was to use my hands to keep him on the outside, then punish him with my kicks when I got a chance to.
“So, it went pretty much exactly as we prepared for, I just don’t think that you can ever prepare for someone to take as much damage as Rod did and keep coming (forward). So, credit to him for that, he was as tough as they come.”
As impressive as the striking display was from Jenkins for the entire length of the fight, it was nothing new in the eyes of the team from Absolute MMA. While the sharp-handed skills were on full display for the full twenty-five minutes, Jenkins believes that while this may have been his best
performance to date, the heavy arsenal he possesses has long been a part of his tool belt behind closed doors.
“Definitely it’s the sharpest I’ve felt,” he said.
“I think Cam O’Neill from Eternal made a comment to my striking coach Andy, he said ‘wow, that’s the best Jack’s ever looked, he’s improved so much’. I think Andy replied and said, ‘he’s been that good for a long time, I think that was just his first chance to really show it.’
“But there were definitely minor improvements. It wasn’t (as if) from the last time everyone saw me I’ve just turned my boxing around and done a one-eighty and gained all these skills, that’s not the case at all. It’s just probably the first time I was able to find the range early with my hands instead of my kicks and put the pressure on with them.”
“That’s what I’m most happy with about the fight – that I got to fully show what my hands are capable of. The fact that I was able to mix up the levels, changing from the head to the body to the leg. The stances – going from southpaw to orthodox and just giving him all those different looks, it just showed the variability of my skill set and that I can do it at a high pace for five rounds.”
Perhaps the only thing as powerful as the performance itself was the message that Jenkins had for his detractors in the post fight interview with in-ring announcer – Luke Toohey. There was no waiting around for a line of questioning, Jenkins simply had a strong message for the doubters he believes have followed him at every juncture in his career.
“I felt that I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder,” said Jenkins.
“I felt like some of the pundits and these MMA pages were talking about this fight like Rod was the favourite and that this was Rod’s fight to lose. I just felt that it wasn’t the case at all.”
“I was doing a lot of running as I always do to get ready for a fight and every time I thought about someone saying, ‘Rod’s the favourite’ or ‘Jack’s running from Rod’, all of that sort of stuff, I just thought ‘wait and see in this fight, watch me, you’re going to see.’
And “see”, everyone did. An eye-opening performance for not only local fans, but dedicated fight fans all around the world eager to see the new breed of international fighters coming through the ranks. With Eternal MMA now being broadcast across the globe on UFC Fight Pass, it was the perfect platform for Jenkins to showcase his abilities to a wider audience.
Of course, it is no secret as to where Jack Jenkins sees his long-term future. Long standing aspirations to fight with the best in UFC are still at the forefront of his plans – an uncompromising mindset that is unlikely to waver any time soon. With his recent dominant displays on home soil and a belief that he is the clear best Australian featherweight on the local scene, Jenkins believes his chance may come sooner rather than later.
“I’ve never fought anyone younger than me,” Jenkins professed.
“I’ve always fought dudes older than me. Every single one of my fights, they’ve all been older than me.
“If you look at anyone younger than me, there’s not a coach in Australia who’s going to let one of those young up and comers at featherweight fight me before I leave. The writing is on the wall that
I’m going to get a UFC shot, so why would you let a young kid who’s coming up fight me if you can just wait for me to get my shot and go?
“As far as I’m concerned, since the pandemic started, I’m the featherweight that showed up at every chance and took on the challenges and won the fights and won them all dominantly.
“I’m not just beating these guys – I’m breaking them, so I think it’s my turn to get my shot.”
If there are still any doubters after his latest performance, one may simply turn to the current reigning UFC featherweight champion for his opinion on Jack Jenkins. Fellow Australian – Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski relies on Jenkins as an occasional sparring partner in preparation for his own fights.
With Jenkins slated to return to New South Wales to help Volkanovski prepare for his next title defence at UFC 273, it was the champ himself who was one of the first to send Jenkins a word of congratulations after his big win at Eternal 64.
“Alex messaged me after my fight and said that he thought it was a flawless performance and a masterclass, so I was really happy to get that feedback from him. Obviously getting praise like that from the champion of the world means a lot.
“In the coming days if I can get of this swelling out of my hands, I’ll probably head up to Wollongong and help him finish off his camp.”
With his shot at an international career seemingly on the horizon, Jenkins has a firm understanding as to how his skill set matches up with the current crop of talent on the UFC roster. An avid fan of the sport itself, Jenkins has always kept an eye on his future competition and who he believes he is comparable to as a mixed martial artist.
“I think I’m top fifteen ready right now,” said Jenkins emphatically.
“You’ve got to go in there and earn your stripes, but I think I’m top fifteen ready right now. So, it’s just a matter of getting in there and proving it.”
“I probably sit somewhere between a Chad Mendes and a Jose Aldo,” said Jenkins when asked who international fans could compare his style to.
“I probably kick like an early version of Jose, but I probably move a bit more latterly and go to the body a bit more like Chad Mendes. Those were the two main guys when I really started getting into the UFC – I think I blend a style between those two.”
There’s a lot to like for fight fans when it comes to Jenkins both in terms of his acumen as a combat sports athlete and as a human being. A professional who carries himself with an astute confidence without ever being cocky, a humble competitor who will always give his opponents credit where it’s due. Jack Jenkins really does embody what it means to be potential representative of Australian MMA on the biggest stage of them all.
The current state of MMA in Australia is being touted as being in somewhat of a “golden age” by media and fans alike. Jenkins plans on being a part of the new wave to join the ranks and put an even bigger stamp on the map for this corner of the world.
As for his own legacy, Jenkins knows exactly what he wants to leave behind when it is all said and done.
“I want to be a world champ,” he said.
“First and foremost, I want to win that UFC belt. I want to fight in Vegas, I want to fight at Madison Square Garden, and I want to sell out Marvel Stadium.”
Any doubts that Jack Jenkins will achieve all his lofty goals?
The premiere mixed martial arts organisation in Australia is finally back in action for the first time in 2022 after a monumental run of stellar fight cards in the previous year.
Eternal MMA navigated the uncertain waters of 2021 within the COVID pandemic to put on eight events in three different states across the country, featuring seven title fights inside four different weight classes, four of which saw new belt holders emerge.
One of the combatants who managed to retain the gold around their waste during the 2021 period was the man who will once again look to defend his title in the upcoming Eternal 64 main event – featherweight champion, Jack Jenkins.
A surging Australian prospect on the regional scene, Jenkins has quickly made a name for himself as a well-rounded fighter with a solid cardio base, high level defensive awareness and proven finishing abilities, stopping four of his last five opponents while riding a five-fight win-streak.
Much of Jenkins’ success up until this point in his career can be directly attributed to an unwavering dedication to his craft. A country boy at heart out of Bacchus Marsh, Victoria – two-hour round trips from home to his gym in the Melbourne suburbs – as well as often sleeping at the gym, point directly to a man driven to succeed at the highest level.
Currently sitting at 8-2-0 in his professional career, Jenkins will be looking to add some polish to his record with a second title defence when he steps inside the cage at the GC Sports Precinct against rising contender and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion – Rod Costa.
Speaking with Eternal MMA, Jenkins gave his thoughts on the upcoming title fight and his career trajectory until now and beyond.
“I’m clearly the number one as I am right now, and Rod’s clearly the number two with the body of work that he’s put in in the last couple of years. So, we’re going to get to it and then I think if I win this one, I should be right to get to the UFC.”
“I think it’s a good matchup for me. I’ve tried to build my style around not having a kryptonite – not having one style that’s going to throw me off. My last three matches have been against grappling specialists. To put that into account, I think that Rod is the best grappler (out of all of them). But in saying that he’s been cracking people with his hands as well.
“I’ve just got to be sharp and work my way in, but I’ve got five rounds to do it and that works in my favour.”
A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt in his own right, Jenkins believes that he will feel comfortable controlling the fight no matter the direction it takes, but it’s his gas tank and stand-up game where he feels he has the clear advantage.
“I think the cardio is one thing that will work in my favour, but I know Rod is fit too, so I’m not discounting that. I think the cardio and the fact that I will be one step ahead on the feet will be the difference.”
“My biggest strength is that I don’t get hit much. You can go back and look through my ten fights and you could probably count on two hands how many times I’ve taken a significant strike.”
Anybody who follows the social medias of the two combatants will perhaps be familiar with some of the virtual stones that have been cast ahead of the match, with some accusations of looking for “easy fights”. As far as Jenkins is concerned, it has been all one-way traffic in that respect.
“If Rod and I had any kind of history or if we knew each other, I might get involved in it a little bit,” said Jenkins of the online barbs.
“I’ve spoken to Rod one time, I walked past him and shook his hand and said, ‘good fight, mate’ and he said, ‘yeah thanks mate’, and then I had a word to (current Eternal lightweight champion) Jack Becker who was standing next to him. I don’t know if he thinks he can just make it up on the spot and I’m just going to bite at it, but I’m not really interested in that.
“Rod’s a good fighter, I’m a good fighter and we’re going to and have a f**king scrap, so we’ll figure it out from there.”
The confidence levels for the Absolute MMA product are at an all time high and for good reason. At twenty-eight years of age, the man they call “Phar” Jack is barely entering the prime years of his fighting career in a rich vein of form.
A submission finish over the supremely talented Diego Pereira in 2020 to win his first title, was followed by up by two dominating TKO victories in 2021, one of which was his first title defence and an avenged loss against fellow featherweight – Jesse Medina.
The overwhelming factor in both recent fights was the sustained pressure and devastating leg kicks that neither of his opponents could keep a poker face to. If Jenkins is to retain his title at Eternal 64, he knows his heavy leg kicks are something he can always rely on to set the tone early, before he sees himself getting his hand raised mid-way through the five-round fight.
“I see it as a third round or fourth round finish,” he said.
“I’ll have to keep my base pretty low early on and watch out for his left hook. He throws a nice left hook off the break, and he’s got a good strong double (leg takedown) that he gets low on, so I’ll have to keep my frame low early on.
“I think I’ll touch his eye enough with my jab to set my distance early, and once that’s on it will just be about taking my time. But that’s the beauty of a five-round fight. I look at the five-round fight as a positive, not a negative, because you just get more time to work.”
“If the finish is there, I’m going to jump on it and take it, but my plan is to do the damage over the rounds that I’ve got rather than trying to get it done quick.”
Of course, the man meeting Jenkins across the other side of the cage has a different scenario in mind for the outcome of this highly anticipated title matchup.
Riding his own hot form with five wins in his last six fights, Scrappy MMA’s Rod Costa is ready to put his evolved skill set to the test against the reigning champ.
If not for an extremely close decision loss against Jenkins’ teammate – Kaan Ofli (a fight in which many fans were split down the middle in terms of who they thought won), Costa would currently be sitting on a six-fight winning streak of his own.
Not one to dwell on what could have been in terms of win streaks, Costa’s focus is completely set on the challenge that lies ahead and whatever obstacles Jenkins may present as an opponent.
“I’m going to go out there and feel him up standing, if he does something that I feel presents a takedown to me, I’ll take it,” said Costa.
“If I go in there and he starts catching me with punches, I’m not that proud that I’m going to (feel like) I have to prove that I can stand with Jack Jenkins. I don’t give a f**k.
“But I don’t see that he’s got anything different than the other guys (previous opponents) had, to be honest. He’s a little bit more powerful, I think. If you’ve seen him fight the last few times, he’s got that calf kick that he hurt people with.”
“For everyone that knows whats happening in this fight, it’s a matter of ‘is he able to hurt me with those calf kicks? Is his striking going to be enough to overpower me?’
“On the floor, I’m not really worried. If he ends up on top, if he plans to take me down, it doesn’t really matter. On the floor, I’m just comfortable wherever it goes.”
Dedicated fight fans will be familiar with the evolution of Costa’s arsenal during his time as a professional mixed martial artist. A world class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt with his own gym, Costa has shown off a much-improved striking game in his recent fights, demonstrating a fearless attitude to stand and bang with the other elite strikers the Eternal MMA featherweight division has to offer.
It is this mindset coupled with a now highly dynamic skill and recent run of wins that has earned Costa his first title shot, though he can’t help but speculate as to why this matchup took so long to come to fruition.
“I’ve only ever had one interaction with Jack Jenkins face to face. It was after I fought Kaan (Ofli), and he was super nice to me – super respectful.
“I’ve got nothing against him, I just just want to fight him. I think I’ve said this stuff a few times, I don’t want to be repetitive, but I wanted to fight him and either him or someone on his team kept refusing.”
A recent venture for Jenkins to another MMA promotion outside of Eternal MMA also saw Costa questioning Jenkins’ motives when it comes to fighting local competition.
“Why would you rather fight a guy that’s 4-4, hasn’t fought in two years, in a show that no one knows, that doesn’t bring any views, that the UFC doesn’t know what it is – rather than fighting me on an Eternal show for a belt?
“That (Rogue MMA) belt means nothing. Who the f**k cares about (a) Rogue MMA belt? It’s the first fight they had. The dude is the champion of a shit promotion, who gives a f**k? He should have fought me. If he’s that confident that he’s that good that he should be in the UFC, he should have fought me.
“And he might beat me, but he didn’t want to take that fight and that’s a fact and that’s all I care about.”
The Rod Costa that fans have come to know and love during is time with Eternal MMA is one that is willing to take any fight, anywhere at any time, even on short notice. Costa is as real as it gets. While conceding that Jenkins has the tools to beat him, he just doesn’t believe the champion outweighs him when it comes to heart.
“I think he’s got a lot of doubts in his head,” said Costa.
“Either because of him, or because of his team not wanting to fight me. He might be a tough fighter, he might f**k me up, he might hurt my leg heaps, but I think I’m just way tougher than he is.
“I’ve got a lot more heart, and it doesn’t matter what happens in the fight I see myself raising my hand for sure. Not even because I’m a better fighter or anything, I just think I have more heart than him and I’m going to find a way to win.”
“I think he’s used to people who quit, and I’m not going to quit. He might knock me out, he might f**k my leg up to pieces, but not going to quit, I guarantee you this.
“I don’t think he has what it takes to go to the deep waters with me, but we’ll see. Maybe I’m wrong. That’s the beauty of MMA.”
Stylistically speaking, this is one of the most intriguing title fights in recent Australian MMA history. Both athletes can boast a deep toolbox of skills to rely on.
On paper it may appear that it’s a classic case of striker vs grappler, and to a degree that is accurate. But with submission victories on the champs record and the recent evolution of the challengers’ striking abilities, this is certainly a matchup that could have it all from both sides.
On March 19th, we will get the answer as to who the number one featherweight in the country truly is.
Eternal MMA, Australia’s premier Mixed Martial Arts organisation, today announced a partnership with Neds. The new deal makes Neds the official wagering partner of Eternal MMA. Ned’s is among the fastest growing wagering brands in Australia and offers a range of innovative products to their clients. It also forms part of the Entain Group, one of the largest sports-betting and gaming companies in the world.
Eternal is the only Australian based MMA promotion that offers official wagering and this partnership has been developed to give Eternal fans markets on all Eternal fights that are streamed on UFC Fight Pass – giving fans a convenient and engaging experience that can’t be found elsewhere in Australia. These markets will be available from Eternal 64 on March 19.
Eternal’s founder, Cam O’Neill, commented on the recent partnership, saying; ‘Eternal’s focus is always on providing our fighters with exposure to new audiences and premium sponsors. Our relationship with Neds takes this one step further by providing a fan focused experience that will fast track Eternal’s growth as we provide the most professional platform for fighters to build their reputation on the national circuit”.
This disruptive partnership is a big step forward for national MMA in Australia and promises to bring new opportunities to the sport of MMA and Eternal fighters. For more information on Eternal MMA, visit: eternalmma.com
Eternal MMA, Australia’s premier Mixed Martial Arts organisation, today announced that street inspired fight wear brand ENGAGE, will become the new exclusive outfitting and apparel partner for the 2022 and 2023 season. The new two year deal comes after ENGAGE became a main sponsor of Eternal MMA back in 2020.
The team at ENGAGE have just debuted the new fight kits for the upcoming season, available in red and blue colour-ways to coincide with the corner of each respective fighter. Eternal MMA Fighters will be able to choose between a number of different styles based on their personal preference, including ENGAGE’s world renowned Grapple & Hybrid Cut shorts.
“We’ve been standing by Eternal since 2018 and to watch them grow over the years has been very rewarding. We’re very happy to be apart of Eternal for the next 2 years and beyond. No one does it better than Eternal and ENGAGE. We’re looking forward to watching combat sports continue to flourish in Australia and New Zealand.” said ENGAGE founder, Ash Belcastro.
“It’s a partnership that really excites us, two Australian born companies with big ambitions that are making a name for themselves on a global scale. The support that ENGAGE has provided a lot of up and coming fighters in this region has been paramount to their success and this is another huge step forward” said Ben Vickers, Eternal MMA co-founder.
UFC Middleweight Champion and ENGAGE’s major shareholder, Israel Adesanya also weighed in about the partnership, stating: “Grass roots MMA can be a ruthless game – I’ve seen fighters do it the hard way too many times. Eternal is a breath of fresh air. They’re pushing the fight game up levels at a time… ENGAGE have been with me since the beginning and this deal will help them support the next generation of UFC champs. Two of the realest in the game.”
The ENGAGE Fight Week and Fight Night kits will feature ENGAGE’s highest quality garments. Like all of ENGAGE products, the fight kits have been tested and developed by world-class trainers, fighters and UFC champions. Years of dedication to making the best fight wear on the planet. The range is packed with Core-Tech features that have earned them a reputation as one of the best fight wear brands in the world.
Despite the ever-present threat of a global pandemic, the year 2021 was a massive year for the UFC by every conceivable metric. Record PPV buys, unforgettable matches, endless highlight-worthy performances, you name it – the leader in mixed martial arts had it all and then some.
It wasn’t just a year in which the company’s most established superstars continued to shine despite all the adversity, but also a time in which a plethora of rising talent would step up and announce themselves as the future of the sport.
Leading the charge of the new breed was none other than former Eternal MMA women’s champion – Casey O’Neill. Bursting on to the scene with three finishes in three fights, ufc.com crowned O’Neill at the top of a list of future stars that included two other combatants from her own division, as well as a host of other exciting international prospects.
Speaking with Eternal MMA, O’Neill reflected on her recent accolade and its significance at this point in her professional career.
“My whole life fighting for my dad (Eternal MMA promoter, Cam O’Neill), everyone always said I had cherry-picked opponents or easy fights, (it) sort of took a little bit away from the wins and everything I was doing as a fighter. So, to go into the big leagues and prove everyone wrong and go 3-0 with three finishes and then get some sort of recognition for once – that was really nice.
“A lot of people agreed with it, a lot of people didn’t agree with it but, it’s just nice to get a little bit of recognition.”
If there were any doubt as to the legitimacy of her award, one only needs to look at how O’Neill stacked up against her peers in the top 10 newcomers’ of 2021 rankings. Aside from Bruno Silva – O’Neill was the only fighter to make her UFC debut in 2021 and go on to three finishes from all three of her fights.
The comparison doesn’t stop there. At the time of writing, O’Neill currently holds the longest active win streak of any women’s flyweight on the roster, with her three in the UFC adding to a run of four in total. What is even more impressive is the fact that O’Neill not only currently stands as the lone flyweight with a one hundred percent win-rate in her professional career, but also remains the only female fighter in the entire UFC aside from strawweight contender – Tatiana Suarez, who can boast that fact.
It is a remarkable turn of fortunes for a young fighter who began their MMA journey with two losses as an amateur after debuting at the age of just sixteen. Self-belief was never an issue, however. Since those two losses, O’Neill went on to win her next five amateur fights before turning pro and never looking back.
Making her debut as a professional at Eternal MMA 43, the woman they call “King Casey” became the first Eternal MMA women’s champion with a decision win over ONE FC veteran – Amira Hadzovic. O’Neill would then go on to defend her strawweight twice at Eternal MMA 46 and Eternal MMA 48 respectively, before continuing her winning ways at Eternal MMA 51 against Caitlin McEwen in the flyweight division – the weight class she now calls home on the international stage.
For O’Neill, it has always been a matter of perseverance in the face of adversity, and with that came an inevitable growth in mentality as she found her way in the sport.
“I’ve always been someone who listens to people a little bit too much,” O’Neill confessed.
“I’ve never really struggled with the self-belief thing. I know that I can work hard enough to make something happen. I went on that win streak in Australia, and I sort of felt like I was untouchable. But then you still had all those voices in the back of your head telling you otherwise.
“I always believed in myself, but then with more eyes came more people doubting you. That was new.”
The transition to the UFC is undoubtably a daunting task for most who make the jump, regardless of prior success on the regional scene. While self-belief has always been a staple of her mindset, O’Neill admits that she had her nerves before making her octagon debut.
“The first fight in the UFC; obviously it is my first fight with the big leagues,” said O’Neill.
“It (was) my first fight in America which everyone talks about being this whole different league, so I was just a little bit nervous for how I was going to go in that jump up. I’d only had five (professional) fights and that point, and a lot of people have a lot more fights going into the UFC, so I was just a little worried.
“Obviously I got the first win out of the way, I got all the nerves for the UFC debut out. The second fight, I still had a little bit (of nerves). But by the third fight I knew I could beat these girls just as easy as I was beating the girls on the regional scene.”
In a further testament to the magnitude of O’Neill’s 2021 newcomer award, two of the top five who placed behind her are combatants from her own division in the form of former Muay Thai campion – Manon Fiorot, along with standout Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner – Erin Blanchfield. While she doesn’t yet see flyweight as the strongest women’s division at this stage, O’Neill believes that the future at 125lbs is in good hands, with herself ready to lead the charge of the new breed.
“It’s exciting being here at this current stage where it’s starting to become a very exciting division.”
“There’s a lot of new blood coming into this division. I think that it’s at the stage where strawweight was five years ago when Joanna (former strawweight champion – Joanna Jędrzejczyk) was running through everyone, and everyone was clamouring to be better so that they could beat her.
“I feel like we’re all in that same sort of position right now with Valentina (current flyweight champion – Valentina Shevchenko). Obviously, everyone’s eyes are set on her so we’re all becoming a lot better, a lot faster, because you have to – to be able to be the one that takes over.
“I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying seeing a lot of new talent come through, and I know that eventually all of us young girls are going to clean out the old girls in the division and make it our own.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, O’Neill has her sights firmly set on making her sophomore year with the UFC an even better one than the last. By her own admission, however, the journey into 2022 needs be met with a more tactical approach. With a professional career moving faster than anticipated, O’Neill believes that the time is now to focus more on improving her skill set in order to set herself up for the harder challenges that lie ahead.
“Sometimes I have a little bit of ‘impulsive syndrome’ and feel like I’m watching myself do these things from the outside, and then afterwards looking back and (thinking) ‘that was actually crazy’.
“2021 was a busy year. It was my first year living in the (United) States, working with a new team, working with new coaches, first year fighting in the UFC, first year being away from my family and a couple of times (without) having my dad in my corner, which is the first in a long time that I haven’t had that.
“There was a lot of firsts and a lot of things to get used to, but it was a fun challenge for me. Looking back at it now, I’m glad that I did everything that I did that year. But this year I definitely want to slow it down a little bit, get some extra training in and build some new skills because I feel like I just had three very similar fights in 2021, so I’m hoping to bring some more exciting stuff to 2022.”
The march into the new year will present O’Neill with a few more firsts. February 12th will not only mark the first time she has fought on a pay-per-view card, but also her first time fighting in front of a capacity crowd inside an arena as a UFC fighter.
With the Toyota Centre in Houston, Texas playing host to the much-anticipated rematch between middleweight king – Israel Adesanya, and former champion – Robert Whittaker, O’Neill is relishing the chance to shine on the biggest stage as a naturalised Australian on a card filled with multiple ANZAC fighters, many of whom have also competed under the banner of O’Neill’s former stomping grounds at Eternal MMA.
Across the other side of the octagon will be retiring women’s MMA mainstay – Roxanne Modaferri. The woman known as “The Happy Warrior” will be making the walk for an incredible forty-fifth time in her professional career – a career in which she has shown an incredible durability factor across an almost twenty-year span, having only been finished three times in all her bouts.
During the more recent period of her run with the UFC, Modaferri managed to put a halt to the momentum of some of the younger rising talent in her division. Most notably was her dominant decision win against rising star – Maycee Barber, a young prospect many had tipped as a potential future champion.
None of these factors have been enough to put O’Neill on red alert, however. While she respects the longevity and achievements of Modaferri’s career, O’Neill believes she will be the storied veteran’s biggest test to date.
“She’s definitely a tough veteran, she’s been around for a long time, and she’s done a lot of great things, but nothing like Maycee Barber.
“Maycee Barber is all hype-train and not really as good as what she’s made out to be, and I believe that I’m better than people make me out to be. I could fight Maycee and Roxy back-to-back and beat them both, so I’m not really worried about what she’s done to those sorts of girls.
“She’s definitely going to be a hard one to put away, but I think that I’m the person who does it. My fight style is aggressive and I’m strong. She won’t be able to take me down and just hold me down the way she did to Maycee, I’m too good on the ground. I think she’ll be very hesitant to take me down but standing with me is no easy task either.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge, but I really believe that it will be another ‘finish’ night for me, an easy night.”
The match also presents something of “full circle” moment for the Scotland native. Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia played host to the first meeting between Adesanya and Whittaker at UFC 243, an event in which O’Neill attended as a fan prior to her rise to international prominence.
The event itself was yet another spark that further fuelled O’Neill’s desire to make it as a professional in the UFC.
“I was sitting in that arena thinking ‘I want to fight here’.
“Nadia Kassem was fighting at the time, and I was calling her out on Instagram because I thought she was s**t, and I wanted to fight her that night.
“She ran away from me the whole time we were fighting on the same circuit. I kept thinking ‘damn she’s in there? That should be me!’, and this time it is me. So, manifest and just keep working and eventually it all works out. Now, I’m fighting on their second card, I’m super excited for that.”
It is clear to anybody who spends any time speaking with Casey that while she has always had the ability to manifest her own confidence, she is certainly a product of her upbringing and the people she chooses to surround herself with.
Being named the 2021 newcomer of the year was not achieved alone, nor was it by luck or happenstance. While the buck stops with O’Neill in terms of outcome on the day, her journey has been presided over by a number of key mentorships that have been vital to her growth as a person as well as a competitor.
From the early beginnings with Pasha Stolyar at Southside MMA and the Hickman brothers at Tiger Muay Thai, to now Eddie Barraco at Xtreme Couture and Casey Halstead with 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, O’Neill has leaned on some of the very best minds in the game to help realise her potential inside the cage.
Arguably as important was the tutelage she has received outside of it. Growing up as the daughter of a combat sports promoter gave O’Neill a rare inside look into the world of competitive mixed martial arts long before she stepped foot inside the cage herself. While handing out tickets at the door for patrons in the early days gave her a taste for the logistical side of combat sports, the occasional dance with the promotional side of the business was enough to confirm for O’Neill that her future resided underneath the bright lights of the cage, not behind the scenes.
What was gained from these early experiences, however, was wealth of knowledge and guidance that helped pave the way for future success, regardless of the path O’Neill chose to take. Having her father by her side has not only been an invaluable resource in O’Neill’s journey in discovering who she is as an individual, but also a pivotal asset of support when it comes to fight day.
“I love having my dad around when it comes to fight time to be honest.” said O’Neill.
“Watching his work ethic throughout my life and the way he built Eternal (MMA) was the way I went about doing my career. I was like ‘if you’re going to do it – you give it everything’, and watching my dad give everything showed me how to do that. So, I did it on the fighting side while he did it on the business side.
“Having him around, it pushes me a little bit more, because I want to work even harder when my dad is in the room. It would be nice to get him out here for a whole camp one time but having him here for a fight is always great. He’s a great emotional support and he’s obviously been with me since fighting as a kickboxer when I was four years old.
“He knows me inside and out. He knows when I’m having a good day, when I’m having a bad day. He knows when everything’s going well in my head on fight day (or) when everything is going to s**t. He’s seen me go through hard weight cuts and easy weight cuts.
“Just having him there, I know that no matter what goes on, I’ll be okay, and I’ve got someone who’s got my back.”
Of course, without the unconditional support of a doting mother to lean on, the long and arduous journey to fulfilled dreams is often not possible. When it comes to Casey O’Neill, this notion is quite literal.
“My mum booked all my flights for me. She supported everything that I’ve ever decided I wanted to do. When I was moving to Thailand, I booked a one-way flight on twenty-four hours’ notice, and she came to my house and helped pack my bags and booked my flight for me. (She) took me to the airport (and) picked me up every time I came home.
“She’s been to every one of my fights apart from the ones in America, due to COVID. She’s a really big support system, she’s the first person I call when anything goes wrong.”
“She’s a super hard worker too. I got my work ethic from both of them.”
With February 12th just around the corner, the 2021 newcomer of the year looks set to make her fight with Roxanne Modaferri the perfect launch pad for her run into 2022. For the current #15 ranked flyweight, it’s just a matter of time until she takes the next big step on her road to championship contention.
“I think I’m going to knock her out in the first round. I think that she’s got one foot out the door and I’m just going to give her a little push and get her out of there. I can tell that she doesn’t like to be hit, I can tell that she’s not very strong and I can tell that if she doesn’t get me to the ground, she’s going to start to panic.
“I truly believe that this is my coming out party as a fighter. I know I’ve had three finishes, but I think this is the one where I do everything right and put a stamp on it and people will start to take notice of me after this fight.”
Three hundred and seventy-nine seconds can either be a long or short period of time depending on the context. Long, if you are waiting for the light to change green on the commute to work. Long, if you are waiting for your leftovers to reheat in the microwave.
It is short however, if you are counting the total amount of time a combat sports athlete has spent inside the confines of a mixed martial arts cage, no matter how many fights they have competed in.
For Josh Kuhne, three hundred and seventy-nine seconds is the precise amount of time he has clocked in for across all six of his MMA bouts to date. In other words, barely longer than a single five minute round. A career that has been equally divided thus far between three amateur and three professional fights have all largely finished the same way; all via knockout or technical knockout, all ending inside the first round, all but one never made it longer than the two-minute mark.
The most recent of these highlight reel wins came at Eternal 63 on his home turf of the Gold Coast. A vicious onslaught of striking from the opening bell against a game opponent in Taela Kelly, would see Kuhne earn himself his third professional win in just forty-nine seconds via TKO.
Speaking with Eternal MMA, the man they call “Kamikaze” gave some insight into his pre-fight mindset as well as the play book that contributed to another quick night at the office.
“The plan’s always the same and I think it’s the same with not just me, but any fighter,” said Khune.
“I think everyone’s trying to get that early night, everyone’s trying to close it in the first round, I’m just the only one going out and doing it. That’s the difference.”
Of course, the game plan is only a part of the picture when it comes to finding success in any combat sport. If there is one aspect of Kuhne’s DNA that he is so well known for outside of his fast-finishing style in the cage – it’s his mentality and preparation. A fighter who is already well versed in dealing with the emotions and adrenaline that accompany any high-risk task, Kuhne brings a fearless approach with him every time he makes the walk to the Eternal MMA confines.
“Obviously on fight night, you’ve got to find something that switches within you. It’s not (necessarily) anything that I switch in to, it’s not a persona as such that I play.”
“When you’re about to step into the cage or you’re about to step into fight or you’re about to do anything like that, I think you’ve just got to find a place in your head where you’re totally focused and totally dialled in.
“Sometimes I’ll just scream, and I’ll just hype myself up and do crazy things and just punch shit – just do whatever it is that I’m feeling in the moment.”
“I’ve always been a thrill seeker; I’ve always put myself into those crazy situations where crazy s–t pops off. I’m so aware of the adrenaline dump. I’m in there, I’m super composed. I don’t feel nervous, I don’t feel scared, I don’t feel anything like that. There’s nothing in that cage that’s going to happen to me that I haven’t seen before.”
Possibly the most fascinating aspect about Kuhne’s meteoric rise so early in his mixed martial arts journey is the fact that he only started hitting pads little more than four years ago. With no previous
experience and no desire to pursue a career in combat sports, the story up until this point for Josh Kuhne is nothing short of remarkable.
The son of a builder, whose humble beginnings started in eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria, Kuhne’s father would eventually seek greener pastures within the building industry after experiencing frustration with his career at home. A move to Brisbane was implemented to broaden the family’s horizons, and with that, the foundations of success would eventually be laid down for Josh in his professional career both inside and outside the combat sports world.
The deadly hands of Kuhne would first find a love for the tattoo gun long before they would grace the Eternal MMA cage. Already armed with a creative flair and artistic mind from his early childhood, Kuhne credits the move north as what spawned a lifestyle as a successful business owner with his tattoo studio – ‘Phresh Ink,’ as well as a competitive mixed martial artist.
“My old man was in the builder’s industry, and he was just getting buggerized in Victoria with it, so he just made the decision to pack up and move to the Gold Coast. And then shortly after a lot of our family actually did the same thing, a couple of uncles have all moved up here now.
“My parents naturally gravitated here for my dad’s work, and it’s just built up and we’ve stayed here since. And I’m glad that they did. I’ve been lucky enough with tattooing and everything that I do, I’ve travelled most of the world, I’ve seen a lot of the parts of the world – I’ve seen everything.
“The Gold Coast is one of the best places that I’ve ever been. I love to call this place home and I’ll always come back here, so I’m super thankful (for the move).”
School was a mixed bag for Kuhne growing up. While he excelled at a sufficient level, the academic side of education was not particularly where he focused his attention.
“In school I was always three pages of bookwork from the front and then from the back page it’d just be doodles and drawings that’d meet those three pages of schoolwork. I really paid attention in art and sports and athletics and stuff like that, everything else I wasn’t too phased in.”
Kuhne’s time at school was cut short a little unceremoniously, the irony of which is clearly not lost on him. But it was from that moment on that he was able to focus his efforts on a passion that would see him become the high achieving figure that he is today.
“I got kicked out of school for fighting believe it or not, in grade eleven.” Kuhne conceded with a wry laugh.
“I got into tattooing pretty much straight away from then I was hooked on it.”
While the artistic side to Kuhne’s makeup as a person served as a creative outlet to his obvious talents, sport was also a large part of his DNA from an early age. Growing up as the younger brother of a competitive – and highly successful motorcycle rider, the seeds were planted from the get-go that would eventually see Kuhne evolve into something of a renaissance man later in life.
“My family – we’ve grown up around motorcycles our whole life.
“My older brother was a professional motorcycle rider. From a very young age he was pulled out of school to travel the world through Europe, through Japan and through everything (while) racing professional motorcycles.
“I think he is still the youngest Australian to ever ride in the world GP. So, to see my brother be a professional athlete from a young age, that was really our drive (to succeed as athletes).”
It was within the same competitive motorcycle world that tragedy would strike the Kuhne family when Josh was only sixteen years of age, with his brother Matthew suffering a career ending injury that left him as a quadriplegic – just nineteen years old himself.
“That was a big hit to the family,” Kuhne confesses.
“But I think growing up around motorcycles and seeing what dedication it took to put into yourself as an athlete to perform that well in a sport – I got a bit of an early insight on that.
“My brother was my hero growing up. I was never ‘Josh Kuhne,’ I was ‘Matt Kuhne’s brother.’ I was the little brother of someone who was already achieving great things. And I was proud of that, I was never upset with that at all.
“I think seeing how much dedication he put into being the best that he could, I took a lot from that when I decided to do sports myself.”
The big brother influence of Matt has evidently been a major contributing factor towards the high standard in which Josh holds himself to. The tattoo industry is one that requires undivided attention and dedication, and Kuhne was throwing himself in headfirst to achieve his dreams with the highest level of success.
Hours spent honing the craft would often mean a sacrifice in leading a healthy lifestyle, which lead to an increase in unhealthy eating and unwanted weight gain – something Kuhne knew he had to change. It was this notion that would unknowingly be the spark of a new passion outside of the tattoo studio.
“I got a point where I was twenty-six or something, and I said ‘I’m going to start doing some boxing or some training, just for my fitness’.
“I think about six months to a year into my training I started finding a real passion for it. I started sparring at the amateur classes, and I told my coach that I wanted to get a matchup. We tried to do that for ages in the boxing industry and it just never eventuated for one reason or another. Whether it was injuries or opponents pulling out or opponents just not stepping up for whatever reason.
“I got the first crack at competitive sports on Eternal with MMA. I got the feel for that, I got the first round knockout there and I was just hooked.
“It wasn’t something that I had planned on doing from the very start when I set out training, but after I had that first fight, I knew that I had to continue to pursue this.
“I’d already sort of made my way in my tattoo career so I was pretty happy to sideline that for a little bit and have a new direction where I’m starting at the bottom and I’m rebuilding myself. I’m drawn to that sort of struggle as well. I like anything where it’s hard and you’re not the best person in the room, and you’ve got to close your mouth and open your ears and be that person to be learning. I got past that point for a little bit in tattooing and when I found that again in combat sports, I was hooked.”
Of course, every combat sports athlete needs a team around them in order to get the very best out of themselves they possibly can. While Chris Carden from Platinum Boxing Club was and still is the man sharpening the fast hands of Kuhne, it will be none other than former Eternal MMA legend and title challenger – Brentin Mumford, who will assume the role as head coach going forward.
While Kuhne has had the support of his team and coaches at CMBT Training Centre throughout his fight camps, this will be the first time in his career that he will have a dedicated man at the helm of his training to solely focus on every aspect of his progression. With the knowledge that the challenges from here on out will only get greater, Kuhne certainly sees the value in having an experienced veteran of the fight game taking the reins full time as he looks to make bigger waves with Eternal.
“He’s (Mumford) been a massive ticket to the growth in my game.
“Now that he’s stepping away from fighting himself, he’s going to be my coach. I haven’t had a coach since I started training. I haven’t had a head coach; I haven’t had anybody guiding me in terms of (identifying weak points) and giving me that honest feedback.
“Sure enough, we’ve got coaches at CMBT, but those coaches are usually fighters as well. It’s hard to train a fighter when you’re a fighter yourself. So having a head coach now, I think that’s going to be (another way) to cement myself and really start getting those levels up.”
Outside of the of his mixed martial arts training, Kuhne has a support network that is arguably just as vital to his success as his team and coaches are. Balancing a full-time job six days a week is no easy task, especially as a business owner – but especially as a full-time business owner who is simultaneously training as a professional athlete.
Not one to consider his plate ever too full, Kuhne is also a father to twin boys – a full-time job within itself. It is within this chaotic but no doubt rewarding schedule that Kuhne considers himself lucky to have some of the best people imaginable in his corner to help shoulder the load. With a team at the tattoo studio holding down the fort whilst in fight camp, Kuhne also has the unconditional support of his wife Amy who forms one half of the dream team both professionally as well as privately.
“We’re definitely a team, and a f—–g good one at that,” said Kuhne on the relationship with his wife.
“That didn’t come easy. Like with any relationship, with any partnership, it takes time.
“We’ve worked together in the studio for years. The first year that we did that, I fired her. I just said, ‘you go back to doing what you do, and I don’t want you to come in here with your opinions.’ And then after time (went by) I took a step back and let the pride down and let her back in, and it was the best thing I ever did because she can run the business when I’m not there.
“She helps me manage my time; she’s taking things off my plate. She watches the kids for me, she does all the ordering, she does all the accounting. She does so much behind the scenes and does it (with no intention) to put herself in limelight, not for any gratitude or reward. She just does it because we’re a team. I take my hat off to her so much and there’s no way that I could be here doing what I’m doing without her doing that.”
“Having her having my back and being able to take a lot of responsibility and tasks off me that I’ve already set up for myself, like being a business owner or having staff that require certain things, it’s been great, I couldn’t do it without her.”
The many helping hands in the life of Josh Kuhne are clearly paying dividends on every level both professionally and privately. As a mixed martial artist, the strides Kuhne is making inside the cage may not always be obvious given how quickly the curtains are drawn on each of his fights.
Behind closed doors however, the gains are being made at a rapid rate in all facets of MMA far beyond his dangerous striking abilities. The work is translating well to the cage. In his last two fights, Kuhne was finally given a chance to show fans how he would deal with at least some adversity.
“Seventy percent of our camp is wrestling, just because it’s such a fundamental.
“I know my striking’s there; I know that I’m super heavy handed. I know that once I start putting guys heads on the end of my f—-n’ punches, they’re not going to want to stand there with me. They’re going to be wrestling me, they’re going to be taking me down, they’re going to be trying to slow me down, they’re going to be clinching (and) grappling. So, I’ve been prepared for that in every fight.
“It was good that I got to show it in my last two fights that I’m not so easy to take down and I am working those other areas.
“I’m not going to go and big-note myself now and say what I’m capable of or let people in on my game. They’re just going to come and see what I’ve been working on and test me (in those areas) and see what I can do there.”
For those who have come so far, they have certainly seen. Kuhne’s devastating approach to the fighting has set him on a trajectory for superstardom, with no previous challengers coming anywhere close to halting the justified hype that surrounds him.
It is an approach that Khune does not plan to abandon any time soon. It is his belief that the aggression he exhibits in the cage comes naturally; it isn’t forced, nor is it a tactic that he leans on for any other reason besides the fact that Josh Khune just loves to fight.
By his own admission, fighting isn’t something that he does for the money. This isn’t a sport that he wants (or needs) for any type of financial gain. The training, the education, the weigh ins, the fight days with his teammates – this is all purely for the love of the sport. Tattooing is where Josh Khune makes his bread – the fight game is where he butters it.
It goes without saying that Kuhne’s fan friendly style has made him a huge hit with the Australian crowds, but it is on the Gold Coast where his star shines the brightest. The hometown support is evidenced by the fact that no matter where Kuhne is placed on the card, it is his name that gets the biggest pop of the night. It is this level of support that Kuhne does not take for granted.
“It’s huge,” said Kuhne.
“It fills me with energy. I love putting the pressure on myself. I find that I perform the best under pressure.”
“In those moments when you step into the cage, and I’ve invited all my friends, all my family, all the supporters are there. Everyone’s there to see me perform. So, I can’t let my people down. I have to go out there and I have to perform, so putting that pressure on myself makes me work even harder and it makes me even better in that moment.”
Like any up-and-coming fighter on the local scene starting to make a name for themselves, Kuhne has ambitions for international competition. The UFC is the number one destination for most mixed martial artists, and by Kuhne’s own sentiment, he is no different. Blazing the trail that he is in red hot fashion, Kuhne believes it is an ambition that he will achieve in the not-so-distant future.
For now, his eyes are focused on what lies ahead on home soil, with a hopeful return to action when Eternal MMA returns on the Gold Coast in March 2022 for Eternal 65. Relatively untested at any notable length up until this point in his career, Kuhne expects his next opponent to be someone who can challenge his resolve and give him the chance to showcase his abilities on a wider spectrum.
“Throw me a name,” Kuhne said when asked who his next opponent could be.
“A lot of people are out there promoting themselves that they’re not getting fights and they’re not getting people to say yes. But behind the scenes, I’m saying yes to everyone. And these fights aren’t getting made.
“There are a few people that I don’t want to fight because they’re either my mate, or I don’t feel they deserve that shot. But anyone from here on out should be a test. It should be an elite striker, an ex-champion, the next best thing, or a f—–n’ title shot.”
The prospect of a shot at the belt feels like it could be sooner rather than later for Kuhne. With ex contender and now head coach – Brentin Mumford no longer in the title picture, Kuhne believes the path to gold is becoming a little clearer.
“I considered the belt (to be) out of the picture for the next two or three fights, purely because I thought Brentin would be the belt holder. But now that that’s taken a different path and the belt is in other hands, I don’t mind taking my shot at it. Whether that be one or two fights before I get there, or if I’m gone by then, so be it.
“I’m down for whatever the promotion throws at me. At the end of the day, Cam, and Ben – they’re the matchmakers. They know what’s exciting, they know what the fans want to see.”
Until such time as a match is confirmed – Josh Kuhne will be ready and waiting for his number to be called.
Fresh off a successful road trip to Perth – Eternal MMA heads back home to the Gold Coast to close out the year with another intriguing card filled with both established veterans and fresh talent looking to put their stamp on the tail end of the 2021 calendar.
The GC Sports Precinct will play host for Eternal 63 and its solid list of matchups, with one of the more entertaining prospects coming in the way of a bout featuring two athletes ready to take the next big step in their professional careers. A co-main event slot that was originally slated for a bantamweight title fight featuring champion – Shaun Etchell, will now see would-be challenger Diego Pereira, face-off against the ever-ready late notice replacement in fellow Brazilian, Rod Costa.
With the current title holder in Etchell recently suffering an injury to force him out of the fight, the always game Diego Pereira was more than willing to take on any and all-comers without hesitation. A dreaded phone call from his manager confirming the bad news was absorbed and quickly turned into a mission to salvage his spot on the card.
“(I) immediately told my manager ‘Bro, I’ve been putting in so much work for the past eight weeks, nine weeks. I’m not gonna let that go to waste and sit and wait for Shaun’s ass to heal. Find me somebody else. I’m ready. It doesn’t matter whether I’m risking losing my shot or not, I’m ready. Whoever they put in front of me I’m gonna merk them and still get my shot next year so, line them up’.”
A subsequent conversation was had with Eternal MMA promoter – Cam O’Neill, who went to work on finding Pereira a willing late notice replacement. With veteran Brazilian Jiu Jitsu standout – Rod Costa more than happy to answer the bell, a catchweight bout was agreed to by both parties to cement the last-minute new look co-headliner. While it wasn’t the title-shot he had originally trained for, the always game ‘El Pantera Negra’ was never going to let an opportunity slide to show the world that he is ready to face any challenge that is thrown his way.
“He (Cam O’Neill) said Rod can make ‘X’ weight. And then we agreed on a catchweight of 64 kilos. It was a no brainer. No hesitation from me. I said, ‘Anybody. Just find them’. If they can find a bantamweight, perfect. Because that’s what I’d been working towards. But if not, I’ll even accept a featherweight. But (in the end) we ended up agreeing on a catchweight bout.”
“I’m a competitor, doesn’t matter who. I don’t prepare for anybody specifically. I’m always training all facets of MMA, improving my skills, working towards bettering myself. So, whoever, you know? I was ready so, I’m glad we have an opponent and I’m glad I’m still competing this weekend.”
While it is an opportunity to keep his place on the card at Eternal 62 and still compete at home on the Gold Coast, Pereira is aware that Costa presents a different set of challenges compared to his original opponent. With a cerebral mentality and dedicated team of coaches is ready to formulate any game plan necessary, the Southside MMA product believes he has more than enough tools to overcome the late change.
“I’m constantly, daily, primarily focusing on myself, on my skills, bettering myself and my skillsets. But whenever we get an opponent, we definitely have a look at them. My coaches break them down where we talk about it and develop a game plan towards combating them.
“This is a thinking game. I consider myself a martial artist, so I definitely approach it with a thinking mindset – thinking approach, to where I want to set them up for things. I want to impose my will and utilise my strong suits against their weak suits.”
“For Shaun, it was going to be one thing (game plan). For Rod, (it’s another) considering that he is a world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor and thinking about his pedigree as a Jiu-Jitsu player and what he’s done. We obviously know where our chances of success mostly lie. Where we can explore looking at his previous fights, strengths, weaknesses.
“We have a strong game plan for him. We are not in any way shape or form hesitating on whether ‘hey, should we grapple with this guy, should we not grapple with this guy’. Wherever this fight goes, I’m extremely confident in my skillset. I have no issues going to the ground with him if it goes there. It is a mixed martial arts fight.
“He can be a world Jiu-Jitsu champion, (but) when it comes to mixed martial arts, I believe I’m the best guy around in the bantamweight and featherweight division. He can bring ADCC, IBJJF world championship calibre (skills). Who he trains with, where he’s been, where he’s from, what he’s doing – I do not care. I care that I am prepared, that I’ve done all the work and that come fight night I will implement my game plan and I will get my hand raised. That’s what it’s about.”
It’s hard to ignore the confidence that Diego Pereira has in himself. Fans are already well accustomed to his high-octane as well as his larger-than-life personality. The charisma and showmanship that he exhibits are merely part of a larger picture of an athlete who has grown as a man under the guidance of a close-knit team and family. It is not through reckless abandon that Pereira is willing to throw himself into the fire on late notice, but rather the confidence he gains from that symbiotic network and tutelage of a family who have been there from the beginning.
“Ever since I joined Southside it’s been like finding a new home and joining a new family. People have come and gone but the key players have stayed; my head Jiu-Jitsu coach – Vicente Cavalcanti, my head MMA coach – Paul Stolyar, my head striking coach – we call him ‘Uncle Dez’. We have our management team – Liz and her partner Reon and her kids.
“The key players have stayed around, and those key people have embraced me like one of their own from day one. For a decade, I’ve grown tremendously. I’ve spoken about; not only as a martial artist but as a person, as a man, as a human being. I’ve learned through the martial arts, but also through the example that they have set to be a better person; selfless, show love, show care – try to demonstrate and show the same level of attention and giving to those that were coming after me like those that came before me.”
“We have a family environment within our gym and that’s what we cultivate. That’s why the energy is so good. Every day in the gym it feels like we are having fun, we are enjoying (everything) and that’s why we continue to evolve.”
Riding the momentum of a second-round heel-hook submission against Abdalla Eltigani at Eternal 61, Pereira will be looking to build upon that success with an even more impressive display. Looking ahead to the fight at Eternal 63 – Pereira was steadfast in assessment of what a win against Rod Costa will mean in terms of the next move in his career.
“Winning this definitely will give me a title shot. Like I said, I had the title shot. I could sit and wait for it. I chose to compete and gather more experience. After I win this, that will just put a stamp on who the number one contender is. There’s no other name out there. I’ve made that clear not only at bantamweight, but also at featherweight.”
“We had the opportunity to compete for the featherweight title back in March 2020 that didn’t (result in a win). The guy who got the championship – Jack Jenkins, is still the champ today. So, I will one hundred percent chase that rematch.”
“My goal is to become a double champion and even triple champion. However many weight classes I can get to; I will chase that because I am a competitor. I do believe for as long as I’m healthy for as long as I’m young, hungry and I’ve got these skills, if there is somebody else out there claiming to be the best; let’s compete, let’s find out who is actually the best. I carry that Max Holloway mindset.”
“I will call out for both of those things (bantamweight and featherweight title fight) on Saturday night, trust and believe. I will be on that mic, I will be calling for Shaun Etchell, I will be calling for that Jack Jenkins rematch and whoever answers first, gets it. That’s the plan.”
On his predictions for the fight this coming Saturday, Pereira’s demeanour took a pensive stance as he pondered the outcome and what he is sure will be a must-see matchup for fight fans.
“I see this being a very entertaining bout. Rod’s a tough dude, he’s from Brazil, man. He’s got heart, I can tell, but he’s getting up there in age. I don’t see him being able to withstand my shots (and) the way I’m going to pick him everywhere, all around. Legs, body, head, everything. He’s going to feel it.
“Within the first round he might be able to survive and do his thing while he’s fresh, but I don’t see him being able to get past the second round. If he does, I’ll be very surprised but he’s getting done within that three rounds for sure.
“It’s a second round TKO for me.”
In the opposite corner, the man who will be looking to rain on the parade of Diego Pereira and mount his own case for a title shot in his own right is as ready as ever.
Hot off his recent TKO victory over Justin Van Heerden at Eternal 60 – Rod Costa is quickly becoming known as the man to call when a fight needs salvaging. A short notice away game in Queensland was not enough to deter Costa from accepting the last-minute request. Fighting out of Perth, Western Australia, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt was ready to pack his bags and make the journey east to make a statement.
“I try to always keep training. Every gym, there’s those guys that come in, do the training camp, do the fight, win, or lose they (then) disappear for a few months. Then they come back (and) do another training camp. I try not to do that. I’m always training.
“Every day I train. It might not be with the same intensity of course, as if I’m preparing (for a fight). But I try to keep active with my training in between fights.”
It’s not only the “always ready” attitude of Costa that should have fans eager to see him back in the cage. Costa’s recent win showcased a continued evolution in his mixed martial arts career that is becoming a scary prospect for any potential opponent he may face in the future.
Considered by many as primarily a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist, Costa punctuated his victory over Justin Van Heerden with an impressive display of stand-up striking, knocking his opponent down three times before closing the show with vicious ground and pound in the dying seconds of the very first round. It is the growth in this area of his game that he credits with a move to the acclaimed Scrappy MMA and Fitness complex and its vast array of in-house knowledge.
“One hundred percent it’s all due to Scrappy (and) all the guys at Scrappy. Even a little bit before I joined, Jack (Eternal MMA lightweight champion, Jack Becker) started helping me because he was already at Scrappy. You know, getting some good training in, getting some new concepts with striking and trying to improve the striking.”
“It’s a different type of training. It’s just more realistic striking stuff that I’ve never done before. I was never a striker, but I’ve done a little boxing here and there in between my jiu-jitsu training. I used to think I wasn’t half bad, but I was basically just doing boxing for fitness stuff.
“Scrappy is a pretty hands-on, realistic MMA style striking-training. (So) it’s due to them one hundred percent. Ben (Eternal MMA co-promoter and Scrappy MMA coach, Ben Vickers) is an excellent coach, he surprised me so much. Not because I didn’t think he was good, but his style of coaching and the way he does things is very similar to mine and they all have the knowledge there to get someone to be able to be confident with striking.”
“It’s been about a year since I moved there, since I started training with Ben and being a part of the team. And that’s it, it’s from there, it’s from nowhere else. Before that I was just a tough dude that didn’t mind getting hit and I think hits relatively hard, but there was no technicality.
With Costa dividing his time between Scrappy MMA and his own Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu centre – Costa Academy Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Fitness, it’s been the close relationship that Costa has with lightweight champion – Jack Becker that has been the catalyst for a harmonised training schedule between the two gyms.
“Jack’s one of my closest friends. We literally started training as white belts within a couple months of each other. We’ve been training since 2010 together. He’s at the gym here every day (Costa Academy) and we go to Scrappy every day as well.”
“Some of the Scrappy guys come here, we have a really good relationship. There’s no competition or any politics. Some of my guys go there, too. It’s a f*****g awesome relationship, it’s great.”
For Costa, the Jiu-Jitsu academy is a culmination of dedicating himself to his passion twice a day, every day for the past decade. Originally born in Brazil, it wasn’t until Costa moved to Australia that he began to take up training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu himself.
“I was always a fan of fighting. And then I moved to Australia. I remember always thinking about starting. Not that it was in my mind every day. But every once in a while, I would be like ‘I wish I could…It would be good to do Jiu-Jitsu’. I’d watch fights all the time. And then one day I just came in and went with a friend like five years after arriving in Australia.
“I arrived in Australia in 2005 and in 2010 after thinking about it every once in a while, I got a friend together and we went to a gym, and we started in March 2010 and never stopped. I was at uni, I stopped going to classes, I failed all my units (much) to the disdain of my father and my mum.
“I started just training twice a day, every day literally from the get-go as a white belt. I had such a narrow focus, I just loved it so much. I kept doing it, I got my blue belt within six months. I got good really quick. Not good, but I got to a good level for a beginner really quick. That’s how I started. I’ve never looked at anything else. I didn’t know exactly that I wanted to follow this as a career and open a gym.
“But that’s all I was doing. I was just like ‘f**k everything else’ until I find what I want to do at uni or until I find something I love. I like doing this. So, I’m going to do this.
It was this fire that Costa had inside of him that catapulted him on a ten-year journey filled with various accolades and achievements that included travelling internationally to compete in the most prestigious tournament in the world – the IBJJF World Jiu-Jitsu Championships. It would be here that Costa would win bronze as a purple belt, making him the first Australian ever to accomplish that feat. More international success would follow in various other tournaments over the next few years, as the crowning moment in his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu journey would see him awarded his black belt by long-time coach, Filipe Pena.
Injuries would eventually catch up with Costa while he was competing, and so his attention turned to sharing his ten years of jiu-jitsu experience by opening the Costa Academy in Myaree, Western Australia. A passion that he continues to this day while competing as a mixed martial artist competing under the Eternal MMA banner.
With his focus now entirely on the fight against the highly talented, Diego Pereira – Costa gave his thoughts on his opponent and how he feels he measures up against his fellow countryman.
“I don’t like to stress myself with how (the fight) is going to go. But I have watched him before I knew I was going to fight him. He’s one of the few guys at the top of the division in Eternal MMA. I watched his fight with (Jack) Jenkins a while back. I saw his last fight with (Abdalla) Eltigani, I was there in the stadium. So, I’ve seen a l little bit.”
“But I think my jiu-jitsu is just on another level (compared) to him, and all of the guys to be honest in the featherweight division. Anything can happen, I can get submitted, he can crack me and then submit me. Anything can happen to anyone. But in terms of, if I do everything right, I think there’s honestly no danger in the jiu-jitsu.
“But again, you never know. I might go in there and he just surprises me, and he does better. So, I’m not thinking it’s going to be easy when I get the ground. But I don’t have easy rounds, man. I train hard jiu-jitsu with hard people.”
“In the striking, I know he’s good. He seems to be really explosive; he’s got power, I think. He’s got really good movement. But again, I think I can keep myself safe and if he gives me the opportunity, I can do some stuff as well. But that’s why the fight is good, that’s why you get nervous. I’m not sure what’s going to happen.
“One thing that I hate is we’re in this stage everyone is trying to talk s**t. Everyone’s just trying to say they’re going to smash this guy; they’re going to do (this and) that. No one knows how it’s going to go. I think I’m going to win, I’m very confident. But if there wasn’t that little bit of fear of like ‘man is this guy going to be better here, am I going to be able to deal with this to deal with that’, it wouldn’t be as exciting as it is. So, I’m confident, but I know anything can happen in a fight. I’m ready for everything, I’m ready to go into deep waters.”
With two Brazilian fighters finding the range in their skillset and eager to make a statement in front of a capacity crowd on the Gold Coast; this one cannot be missed.
After a year delayed by fight cancellations and border closures, Eternal MMA’s perennial lightweight contender, Brentin Mumford finally gets his shot at the Eternal lightweight championship this Saturday at Eternal MMA 63.
Originally scheduled to challenge former champion Dan Hill at Eternal MMA 61, Mumford was forced to pull out of the fight due to Australia’s COVID-19 border restrictions.
In his place stepped Perth lightweight, Jack Becker, who managed to defeat Hill in a one-round firefight which ended when Becker stopped Hill with a devastating barrage of punches that folded the former champion on the canvas.
Having come up short in his last two attempts at winning Eternal gold, Mumford will be hoping that third time’s the charm when he challenges Becker, but the 34-year-old veteran knows time isn’t on his side, and that this fight could be his last.
“If I do retire, It’ll be nice to go out with a win. I’m 34; I’ve poured 10 years into this sport and this will be my nineteenth fight, so this could be it. But I’m only focusing on this fight, and when the dust settles on Sunday we’ll see what’s next.” Mumford said.
When asked how he felt about sharing the cage with Mumford for what could be his last outing, the champion Becker was in no mood for sentimentalities.
“Fairytale endings and narratives are irrelevant; sometimes you don’t get what you deserve. You take what you can on the day and that’s why I love this sport. It makes men.” Becker said.
Mumford, who trains at CMBT Training Centre, is also excited to share the card with his teammates.
“Having the six of us on the card – me, Josh Kunhe, Darcy Vendy, Tristan Murphy, Jayden Tillinger and Jesse Yada – is going to be unreal! The energy and the vibe of the gym has been amazing… we’ve all been helping each other prepare and game plan for our fights.
“We’re fighting at home, in front of our home crowd and that always brings another level of energy! What better way than to ride off into the sunset headlining a card with five of your team mates. It’s going to be a great night.” Mumford exclaimed.
If this is to be Mumford’s last fight, it’ll be a sad day for Australian MMA. Mumford has been a constant presence in the Australian MMA scene for the last decade, sharing the cage with some of Australia’s best lightweights. This weekend’s fight will also mark his eighth appearance for Eternal MMA, making him one of the promotion’s most dependable and durable veterans.
HBF Stadium in Perth, Western Australia was not only the scene of an incredibly entertaining fight card featuring both up and coming as well as established talent, but also ground zero for a statement made by one of the hottest prospects in Australian mixed martial arts today.
Eternal 62 saw defending flyweight champion and Perth native – Stephen Erceg simultaneously retain his crown as the best 57 kilo combatant in the country, as well as establish himself as one of, if not the premier mixed martial artist fighting within Australian shores, regardless of weight class.
With a capacity crowd eager to see another high-level performance from their local hero, the stage was tailor-made for a champion like Erceg to shine.
And shine he did. If there were any questions as to who the better man was after Erceg had already beaten his once again opponent in Paul Loga back at Eternal 47, they were no longer by nights end this time around. Make no mistake, Paul Loga is a high level mixed martial artist who on his day can mix it up with the best Australia has to offer and come out on top. Unfortunately for him, Stephen Erceg has his number. He has now stopped Loga twice in the first round in two fights. It’s no accident nor is it a fluke. This is a man who is on top of his game with an elite set of skills that are a class above his competition.
It wasn’t just Erceg’s ability to once again negate the fleet footed Loga’s high octane style, but also his obvious pedigree in the fundamental facets of MMA offence that lead to his first successful title defence; the foot work, the cage control, the ability to physically wear on his opponent combined with the utilisation of knees within the clinch were all keys to slowing down his lively adversary.
Speaking to Eternal MMA while on a well-deserved getaway, Erceg himself alluded to the fact that these were areas in which he and his team identified in preparation for the fight that would lead to victory.
“His most dangerous time of the fight is the first three minutes and after that you can see his technique start to go away a little bit because he’s a bit tired. After he hit me, and sort of forced the clinch himself I thought ‘we’ll just use this opportunity to sap his arms a little bit and we’ll come out of it in a much better spot’.”
“He was heavier (at the time of fighting) than me, I think. I was taller than him. It didn’t matter if he was stronger than me. I was just trying to make him use his arms. If he has to use his arms, he has a little less power which takes his percentage of winning from 30 percent to 20 percent.”
“As soon as we exited the clinch, he stopped, put his arms down and went (exhales deeply).” “We’ve got five rounds – he’s getting tired and doing that…It’s going to be a long night forhim.”
It would take Erceg little more than a minute longer than their previous match to once again finish his rival in their second fight, this time with a ruthless mounted guillotine that gave Loga no choice but to tap out and further confirm the defending champion as the number one flyweight competitor in Australia. A glancing counter right hook seemingly caught Loga behind the ear and briefly dropped him to his knees. The split second it took for him to get back to his feet was all Erceg needed to close the show. With Loga’s neck briefly exposed on the way back up, Erceg latched onto it with deadly precision, dragged him back to the canvas and called the game with a mounted guillotine at two minutes and thirty-one seconds in the very first round.
An accomplished Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner with a brown belt ranking, the guillotine choke is a weapon that Erceg is more than capable of pulling out given the smallest of opportunities to do so.
“He got up so fast, he obviously wasn’t dazed or rocked or anything like that. It (right hook) off balanced him to some degree. I’ve been known as a guillotine guy for a long time so, if you let me on your neck it’s definitely danger.”
The choke itself was very reminiscent of an instance in the recent UFC featherweight title match between fellow Australian, Alexander Volkanovski and Jiu-Jitsu black belt, Brian Ortega. Volkanovski of course somehow survived a very tight mounted guillotine attempt from Ortega to go on and win the match; a memory that flashed through the mind of Erceg in the seconds he found himself delivering the very same submission to Paul Loga.
“When I had the choke, all I could think about was Volkanovski getting out. – Erceg said with a laugh. “I was like ‘I’ve got to make sure that I do everything possible so that he can’t slip his head’.”
At just 26 years of age, Erceg is arguably years away from his prime as a combat sports athlete. What’s remarkable about his achievements up until this point is it seems the champ himself is still trying to figure out in his own mind just how good he truly is. With a healthy respect for his opponents and a humble approach when talking about his own abilities, it seems Erceg’s results and impression of himself are starting to align more and more with each fight.
Feeling fresh after a title fight in which he was able to reflect upon his win with a clean bill of health, Erceg cut a pensive figure regarding the leadup to first successful title defence and what his performance means in terms of his stature among the elites of Australian MMA.
“A few days before that (the fight) I was s*****g myself. I was ‘scared’, is probably the best word; worried ‘blah blah’, you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“And then on the day of the weigh-in, all the nerves went away, it was really odd. I saw him (and) it didn’t feel like I was fighting, almost. I just saw some guy who I knew I was about to fight but I wasn’t nervous at all. Most of the actual day of the fight I wasn’t nervous and then obviously when I rocked up to the building, I started feeling those anxious butterflies in my stomach.”
“But as it got closer, I was nervous that I wasn’t nervous enough. It was an interesting feeling. I knew that if I didn’t take him seriously enough, he’s good enough that he can definitely end my night. So, I had to be aware that it wasn’t an easy fight, and if it was, that’s great but, I had to mind my P’s and Q’s.”
“Originally, I was over-hyping him in my head, and then I was worried that I went too far the other way and thought too much of myself.”
“I definitely didn’t expect it (the fight) to go that fast again. I don’t know what it means, whether I’m better than I thought or I got lucky again, I don’t know what to make of it completely yet. It is nice to sort of put out there that this stuff isn’t necessarily just luck – it’s happening for a reason.”
“I’m always weary of those fighters that sort of get too full of themselves and get too big for their britches, if you will. And I don’t want to be that guy, so I’m trying to compartmentalise everything and make sure that I have a healthy regard of my skill set and not a fabricated one.”
One factor that certainly helped put a smile on Erceg’s face was the ability to fight at home. A huge crowd packed into HBF Stadium west of Perth and the majority made their voices heard in support of their hometown hero; something Erceg does not take for granted.
“It seemed like the most support I’ve ever had in the building before. My supporters are always really loyal. I don’t know if it’s because a lot of them are FIFO workers too and stuff like that, so I don’t know if maybe it just worked out on a swing where everybody was back or maybe I won a lot of fans in the last fight. But it seemed like the whole stadium was packed with people that wanted to see me do well.”
“Of course, it means heaps to me. I love talking to people and helping people when I can. To have people support me back – it’s very special.”
With a professional career still in relative infancy, it seems Erceg is at a point in his life where his performances are starting to make a believer out of himself. Having now notched six finishes from eight wins and four of those in the first round – it is a record worthy of admiration, but Erceg is not one to rest on his laurels. Always eager to improve himself, Erceg admits that he is likely his own biggest critic when it comes to post-fight analysis, even when he manages to exit the cage virtually unscathed and a win in the bag.
“Every time I have a fight, I’ll go backstage and almost always the first thing I do is say ‘oh this s**t happened’ or ‘oh I did this when I should have done that’. There’s always something in my mind straight after the fight that I thought I didn’t do very well. So, I’m always trying to improve on my technique.”
“First thing I said after this fight was ‘I can’t believe that right hand landed.’ (Loga’s first successful strike to Erceg’s eye). I was trying to figure out exactly what I was thinking and what I was doing as to why that happened.
“It shouldn’t have happened that early. If that’s all I was worried about (Loga’s hands) I should have at least been out of the way for the first minute, right? So, I’m trying to figure out what I was doing wrong there. I think I was just trying too heavily to counter it with my kick, and I got a little too high.”
It’s exactly that kind of critical mindset that has yielded the success that it has up until this point in his career for AstroBoy. With the Australian MMA scene very much on the rise, there is plenty of competition when it comes to who has the right to call themselves the best, regardless of weight class. As it stands, Erceg feels he now belongs in the conversation.
“I honestly can’t think of another guy that could be number one, just because I feel like I’ve fought more than the other guys that are in the conversation.” Erceg said, thoughtfully.
“Obviously Jack Della was the other guy (number one) deservedly. And he’s made the UFC now.”
“He was unquestionably the best guy, I thought. When I looked at Eternal MMA it was Jack Della for sure. And now that he’s gone, hopefully, I’m that guy.”
“Out of the other Eternal guys, maybe (current Eternal MMA lightweight champion) Jack Becker. He’s fought for a long time, but I couldn’t really name another one that I thought was above me, so to say.”
Of course, with Erceg’s current run of success, talk of an international MMA career is inevitable. With a host of local fighters making their way overseas in recent times, Eternal MMA is quickly proving to be a breeding ground for the best home-grown talent looking to take the next big step in their combat sports journey.
We have seen the likes of the aforementioned Jack Della – a former Eternal MMA welterweight champion, earn himself a contract with the UFC on Dana Whites contender series. Other names like Casey O’Neill, Jacob Malkoun, Chelsea Hackett, Carlos Ulberg and more have all fought under the Eternal MMA banner and gone on to find varying rates of success internationally. Stephen Erceg is no different when it comes to similar aspirations.
The current Eternal landscape still holds plenty of challenges for Erceg, though. During a conversation prior to his recent title win, Erceg himself went on record suggesting that he has interest in fighting current Eternal bantamweight – Shaun Etchell. Erceg has found recent success at bantamweight – fans will remember well his three-round war with rising star Cody Haddon. With Etchell now slated to defend his title at Eternal 63 against livewire contender – Diego Pereira, Erceg is more than happy to face the winner of that fight should he be given the chance.
“One hundred percent.” Erceg remarked, when asked if he would want to face the winner.
“I don’t really think there’s many people at flyweight at the moment. The only other guy – that’s sort of inactive – is Shannon Ross, and he hasn’t fought in a while. I think he’s injured to be honest. So, the one that makes most sense is the winner of that fight.”
When questioned about who he views as the better fighter between Etchell and Pereira right now, Erceg was complimentary in his assessment about both of his potential future opponents but is still unsure as to who presents the bigger challenge.
“I had a really high opinion of Diego before he fought (current Eternal featherweight champion) Jack Jenkins. And then I thought Abdalla (Eltigani) looked really good against him until he got caught. So, I don’t know what to make of Diego at the moment. And I thought Shaun Etchell didn’t look that good until he fought his last opponent and then I thought he looked phenomenal. So, I want to see that fight.”
Always keen to learn more about his competition’s skill set as well as improve on his own, Erceg has been keeping a close eye on both Etchell and Pereira.
“I’ve studied Shaun Etchell a whole heap. I’ve watched every single one of his fights. I’m very familiar with his fighting style and what I think he does well. I just didn’t think he was as good as he was until he fought his last opponent. And Diego Pereira – I watch a lot of his fights but less intently. He, I thought, was better than maybe I suspect he is now, but we’ll see.”
There is a lot to like when it comes to the prospects in Stephen Erceg’s future and the challenges that will inevitably present themselves to him. For now, he is enjoying his first successful title fight with a short holiday before getting right back on the horse. Not one to stay away from the mix for too long, Erceg sees himself back in the gym sooner rather than later.
“We are here for a week so, I get back on Tuesday, and I’ll be back in the gym on Tuesday. I don’t like taking too much time off, if any. Usually, I’d be in on Monday but I couldn’t do that this time.”
“So many things to work on – so little time.”
With Eternal 63 less than two weeks away, and with that a title fight that may produce the next opponent for Stephen ‘AstroBoy’ Erceg, it may not be long before we get to see exactly what tools he has added to his already impressive arsenal, as he continues in search of further glory with Eternal.