Kamikaze Rising: The Josh Kuhne Story So Far

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. 

Kuhne capped off his 2021 with another first round KO victory.

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.” 

Josh Kuhne surrounded by his teammates before his walkout.

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.

Kuhne kicked off his MMA career back at Eternal 49.

“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. 

Kuhne has found his home with CMBT Training Centre.

“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. 

Kuhne frequently gets the biggest pop from the crowd.

“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.

SPOTLIGHT: COSTA VS PEREIRA

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’.”

Pereira was quick to accept any opponent available.

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.  

Pereira is an experienced grappler in his own right.

“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.”  

Pereira has a close relationship with his gym at Southside MMA.

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.” 

Pereira calls for a 2nd round TKO.

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.” 

Costa is coming off a huge TKO victory at Eternal 60.

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. 

Costa credits his growth to his time at Scrappy MMA.

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.  

Costa has a myriad of Jiu-Jitsu experience.

“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.  

BRENTIN MUMFORD: A DECADE IN THE GAME

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.

Mumford has been forced to wait, before making his next walk to the cage.

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.

Brentin’s looking forward to the home-crowd energy

“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. 

Stephen Erceg: The hometown (Astro)Boy wins big in Perth

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. 

The packed out HBF Stadium played host for Eternal 62.

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’.”  

Erceg was more than happy to engage in the clinch.

“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.

Erceg capitalised on an early opening.

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’.”

Erceg’s finish was reminiscent of Volkanovski VS Ortega back in September.

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.” 

Erceg does his best to stay grounded before and after a fight.

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.” 

Erceg had his biggest following yet inside HBF Stadium.

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.  

“I honestly can’t think of another guy that could be number one.”

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.

ETERNAL MMA 62 RECAP

Is Stephen ‘AstroBoy’ Erceg (8-1) the best pound-for-pound fighter in Australian MMA? Possibly.

The Eternal flyweight champion continued to make that claim with a first round submission victory against Paul Loga (7-6). Prior to the fight, Erceg expressed that he wanted to leave no doubt about who was the better fighter between the two, and after tonight there is no doubt.

Erceg used his wrestling to control Loga against the cage for the majority of the round, before pouncing on a Loga slip to quickly secure a guillotine. The submission was special too, with Erceg finishing the guillotine from a mounted position.

Erceg snatches a tight mounted guillotine in the first round.

What’s most impressive about Erceg is how well-rounded his skillset is. He poses a threat wherever the fight ends up, making him a dangerous opponent regardless of who’s he’s fighting. During his now seven-fight win streak Erceg has amassed five finishes, including four submission wins. Even more impressively, Erceg has marked his win streak with stoppage victories over Australia’s best flyweights, Tim Moore and Shannon Ross.

After the fight, Erceg told Eternal MMA’s Dan Maudsley that he felt he was now ready for a UFC opportunity. “Call Dana now because I think I’m ready for those guys,” said Erceg. It’s hard to disagree with him.

Elsewhere on the card, Quillan Salkilld (1-1) got himself into the win column for the first time with a slick guillotine choke against lightweight veteran Nicko Flessas (2-8). Salkilld’s size advantage proved to be too much to overcome for Flessas, which became apparent when the fight made its way to the cage floor. Salkilld was able to dominate Flessas on the mat before finally sealing the deal with a smooth guillotine. Flessas proved dangerous in moments during the fight, dropping Salkilld with an extended right, but failed to follow up on his work after being dropped in the same exchange by Salkilld’s flailing right.

Salkilld landed himself the Submission of the Night bonus.

Harv Mohar (0-1) showcased flashy and unusual footwork in his split decision loss to Jack Hayes (2-1) – the second time they’ve fought to a split decision (Mohar won that time) – but Mohar was ultimately let down in the end by his striking accuracy and precision. The bout was evenly contested in the first two rounds, but after fading away in the third, Hayes should feel fortunate that the fight was only a three round affair. Hayes’ victory now means that both fighters hold a win over each other. A rubber match now seems inevitable, especially considering how razor-close their first two encounters were. Imagine if that ends up being a draw?

A third fight seems inevitable for Hayes and Mohar.

Jesse Armstrong (3-1) opened the main card with an exceptional performance against Khan Deatta (0-2), submitting Deatta with a vicious rear naked choke in the first round. Armstrong was able to secure the choke after locking Deatta in a standing body triangle for the majority of the round. It was a controlled and confident performance from Armstrong who dominated from start to finish.

Armstrong set the tone for the Main Card, with his own first round submission.

In all, Eternal MMA 62 proved to be a delight for submission fans, with three of the four main card bouts ending in first round submissions. It was a night that also stamped Erceg’s position as one of the best fighters on the Eternal MMA roster.

Watch Eternal MMA 62 on UFC Fight Pass!

Paul Loga: A Shot At Redemption

A shot at redemption is something that is rarely afforded to combat sports athletes, especially on the pro stage. 

Unlike most typical team sports – whose teams may compete against their opponents several times in a season, mixed martial artists more often than not get a single shot to add a rival scalp to their fight record. Win? You move on to higher ranked opponents. Lose? It’s back in line to face the next run of hungry opponents looking to climb the ladder.

But once in a while, a second chance presents itself to those who are prepared to take their losses in stride, dust themselves off and reconfirm themselves as legitimate contenders in their respective divisions.

For Paul Loga, that chance comes in the form of a rematch with Stephen ‘AstroBoy’ Erceg at Eternal 62 on October 30th in Perth, Western Australia. Only this time, the stakes are even higher. 

Fight fans will recall that the highly talented pair had already faced each other in the main event of Eternal 47 back in September of 2019. On this occasion, it was Erceg who emerged the victor. With Loga pushing the pace early and landing some heavy strikes, it would be a perfectly timed left hand from Erceg in the first that would see Loga’s night waved off by the referee, and consequently see Erceg earn himself a title shot in the process. Loga, meanwhile, would be forced to return to the drawing board and plan a new path back to the upper echelons of Australia’s flyweight rankings.

Loga originally met Erceg in the Main Event of Eternal 47.

For a competitor as ruthless as Paul Loga, this was a prospect he was prepared to face head on. Adversity was something he was more than familiar with, and it was in-part through those adverse experiences that he was able to pick himself up and put himself back on track to the top of the mountain. 

Born in Sudan, Loga followed his uncle to Australia at the age of ten and began to lay the foundations of a man driven to compete. Before he found mixed martial arts, Loga plied his skills on the rugby field. It wasn’t long until injuries began to pile up, resulting in several early surgeries and subsequently causing him to call time on the game he fell in love with as a child. 

While the injuries forced Loga to move on from the rugby field, the competitive fire was something that never waned. A new passion would be found on the Jiu Jitsu mats, which eventually lead to the beginnings of a new career in MMA. It would be the ability to control the outcome, literally with his own hands that would appeal to Loga the most. The pure one-on-one aspect that mixed martial arts provided was something that football could not. 

Loga had his heart set on Rugby, before finding MMA.

 “Footy is sort of the unknown collision.” Said Loga. 

“I find (with) martial arts I can control what happens or what doesn’t happen based on skill. Whereas footy, every time you run, you’re rolling the dice. What’s the other person going to do?”  

The control within the chaos inside the cage was where Loga truly found his calling. A bullish fighter who is known for his elite level cardio, solid grappling skills and sharp hands, Loga embodies a well-rounded and high-paced style that has made him a favourite amongst fight fans. 

It is a style that has seen his results vary, but his popularity never falter. Currently with a professional record of 7-5-0, Loga’s “sword and shield” approach to fighting has seen him on the end of both highlight level wins as well as some devastating losses. Though it must be said, the majority of Loga’s losses have come at the hands of the very best that the Australian MMA scene has to offer. But for Loga, it’s an approach that he sees himself always taking with him whenever he steps inside cage. 

“That’s always been my style. I can’t change it. Even if my coaches try and get it out of me a little bit, it comes out. We are in a fist fight at the end of the day. People call it a fight, but at the end of the day it’s a fist fight.”  

It’s Loga’s relentless style however, that has earned him the right to call himself one of the best flyweights in Australia. When you are consistently fighting the best of the best, an individuals fight record only paints a part of the bigger picture. A fighter’s mentality and how they rebound from adversity contributes an arguably even larger portion.

Loga brings his fan-friendly fight style to every outing.

As Loga is aware, he has earned his place amongst the elite with his never say die attitude. It’s that mentality that has brought him back full circle to face an old foe in Stephen Erceg, but this time with a championship belt on the line.

Asked of his recent run of form back in the win column on the way to his upcoming title match, Loga offered an insightful disposition when it comes to the confidence he gains from his recent performances inside the cage:

“I get more confidence out of my losses. Most of my losses have come to the number ones in the country. I’ve fought three number ones now and I’ve lost to all three.”

“I’d like to knock one over in the name of Erceg, but that’s where my confidence comes from.”

“You remember the wins, the wins are nice, but sometimes you don’t really see where you can improve with the win. You sort of get caught up in the win. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do a lot lately, even with the wins, trying to break down the wins to what I did badly instead of what I did well.”

This will be of course Loga’s second crack at the Eternal flyweight championship. A previous shot at silverware didn’t go his way after an absolute firefight with former champion, Shannon Ross. One of the best fights we have seen on the Australian MMA scene in recent memory regardless of weight class, Loga left it all in the cage and further cemented his reputation among fight fans as a fighter who is willing to go out on his shield in search of glory. 

This will be Loga’s second chance at capturing the Flyweight title.

Since then and his following loss to Erceg, Loga has put himself back on pace with a twofight win streak. A complete, three-round performance over Bulgaria native, Sotir Kichukov proceeded a suffocating first round TKO victory over Australian veteran, Ryan Robertson.

The hard-earned win against the former in Kichukov would reveal the true depths of the adversity that Loga faced in the lead up to the fight. A short time prior to the event, Loga would suffer the loss of a dear friend who he considered a brother. It was within the love of his brother that he would find this strength to overcome his next challenge, dedicating the win to him in the process. 

“That was a tough time.” Loga confessed.  

“He was a very good mate, very close to my family so, to me he is a brother. Same as all my training partners, they’re all my brothers. I bleed for them.”

Loga went on to describe the character of his fallen comrade. 

“He was a good man, he was a very good man, like sort of brightened up the room when he walked into it no matter what mood anyone was in. He always joked about the fighting.

“Before my last fight, before he passed away, he did say ‘I want his head on a platter’ and I told him I’d bring it back. And then the next thing you know he’s in a coma and things are going badly.

“So, I did dedicate it to him (the win), he was definitely in there with me for that one. It was a tough time, but he definitely gave me motivation to keep pushing through.”

With the hardest part of that chapter in his life behind him, the Sassom MMA product was buoyed by his recent success and ready to forge ahead. The momentum was back, the skills were on full display and the local MMA scene was reminded once again that Loga belongs at the top of the food chain with the divisions best. 

It was a reminder that Loga himself needed. 

The win over Kichukov re-solidified Loga as a top contender at Flyweight.

“The one (fight) with Shannon Ross, coming in with him I sort of didn’t feel like I belonged. Where as now, I feel like I belong.

“I should be number one in this country. I believe I’m the best flyweight in Australia and I’m going to prove it come October 30.”

That date of course marks the return of Eternal MMA to Perth – home to current flyweight champion, Stephen ‘AstroBoy’ Erceg, where the two will face off yet again to see who the true king of the flyweights in Australia really is. 

The rematch was meant to happen earlier in 2021, but injury would see Loga sidelined for the time being, while Erceg went on to face and win against young up and comer, Cody Haddon. 

While on the shelf, Loga kept a close eye on proceedings, all the while knowing he would get the chance to avenge the loss to his rival in the near future. While Loga admits that defeating Erceg will always be one of the toughest he will face in his career, he sees a completely different outcome when they square off for a second time in Erceg’s home city.  

While the first meeting of the two contenders went down as a loss for Loga, he believes he was able to identify firsthand exactly where Erceg’s strengths are, and what he can take advantage of when they finally meet again.

“Erceg obviously is an animal, and you need everything to be going right to beat him, even have a chance to beat him. I watched the (first) fight back and really, he landed a good shot. If we look back at the fight, if that fight went on, I think I would have got the better of him, but obviously I didn’t.

“He landed the shot and all credit to him.”

“Of course, he’s evolving. His wrestling was awesome in his last fight, and I think that’s what won it for him. Haddon was really beating him up on the feet and that’s grappling sort of got him out of it and you don’t normally see the grappling out of Erceg.

“He’s an accurate striker. I can’t fault him. He just does some things that I see, and my coaches have seen that we can take advantage of. But overall, he’s top notch.”

“Win or lose this fight, I think he will keep going and he’ll go far.”

If the championship rounds become a factor, and in turn the cardio required to go the distance, Loga believes that is a definitive area where he sees himself having the advantage.

Loga sees a definitive advantage in the later rounds.

“If it gets the fourth or fifth (round) I think I’ll definitely take over that fight, and I’ll take over pretty convincingly. Especially after watching his last fight.

“Obviously he’s going to get tired. Watching that fight (vs Haddon), if we do get into the fourth or the fifth, I think it’s going to be my advantage.”

Loga is also actually aware of what he needs to change for himself in order to get his hand raised on this occasion. While he was the fighter pushing the pace in the opening minutes of the first meeting between the pair, there were some key aspects that Loga knows he needs to adjust in order to finally become champion.

And he knows exactly how he wants to get the job done…

“That (first) fight, I was throwing and hoping instead of aiming and firing, as some say.”

“I take a lot of confidence out of that fight. Everyone knows rematches don’t go the same (way). It’s going to be a much tougher fight for him, so I hope he knows this sort of fight he’s going to be in, because I’m coming to take no prisoners.”

“I want to finish it brutally and I want to get back that knockout.”  

On October 30th, one combatant will leave the HBF stadium as the Eternal flyweight champion and with that, the right to call themselves the best flyweight in Australia. 

Stephen Erceg: The AstroBoy

There is often a time during a mixed martial artist’s career where they truly find out who they are as an athlete, who they are as a competitor, and maybe more importantly – who they are as a warrior. 

A moment in time that can be retrospectively looked upon as vital growth experience for a fighter when they need to remind themselves exactly what they are capable of.  You know you have the skills, the training, the courage to lock yourself in the cage with another human being and go to war. But what happens when you face adversity at the highest level in one of the toughest fights of your life? 

It can be said that it is the measure of a combat sports athlete when he can dig down into his soul and will himself to a place, he maybe didn’t realise he could take himself to. After all, until the fibre of your very being is tested to its limits – how do you truly know?

For Eternal MMA’s Flyweight king – Stephen ‘AstroBoy’ Erceg, that moment in time may very well have been in the proceeding minutes after his most recent fight – a three round war with a highly touted prospect and potential star of Australian MMA in Cody Haddon. 

Stephen Erceg and Cody Haddon put on a show for the fans across three rounds.

A fight that came to pass after the originally scheduled rematch with Paul Loga unfortunately fell through due to injury, there was something of a common feeling amongst fight fans when the bout with Haddon was first announced – was the risk-reward factor truly worth it? What was there to gain for Erceg in taking a late notice fight against a dangerous and hungry young talent with nothing to lose? 

But herein lies the answer…

“If I’m going to be the best in the world, I have to be able to beat people like this, young and up-and-coming guys. And if I can’t beat him, I shouldn’t be where I think I’m going to be so, nothing to lose, everything to gain”

These were the sentiments shared by Erceg on ‘Eternal Insiders’ prior to the main event showdown at Eternal 60. Words that speak to mindset of a true champion, who’s confidence in his abilities allow him to take on challenges that some may view as too much of a risk. This wasn’t a risk in the mind of one Stephen Erceg. This was an opportunity to show who the man is. A martial artist that can win in multiple weight classes. A competitor always ready to stand and face whoever is put in front of him. 

By Erceg’s own admission, Cody Haddon was a much tougher out than he had given him credit for. 

Victorious by the way of unanimous decision, a clearly spent Erceg took stock of the fight in the centre of the cage with Eternal MMA announcer Daniel Maudsley. As he ruminated on his thoughts, he shared with the crowd that he “thought he had him in the first round”- referring to a rear naked choke he seemingly had locked in tight against his bullish young opponent. Surely this was it? Surely a quick night at the office and on to the next we go…

Erceg nearly had him done in the first round.

It wasn’t to be, as Haddon hand-fought with all his might to break the submission attempt and earn himself a trip into round 2. This was going to take something extra. This was going to take a 3-round effort at a fast and furious pace. 

With Erceg eventually getting his hand raised at the final bell in one of the most exciting fights we have ever seen in Eternal MMA history, it would see his current win streak move to 6, with the previous 5 all being at his true home at Flyweight.

Now with a professional record of 7-1-0, it’s an impressive run that has seen him dominate his opponents at almost every juncture, with five of his seven wins coming by way of finish. 

A well-rounded fighter whose strength is in his ground game, now boasts 4 submission wins on his pro record. But what makes him so dangerous is that his stand-up game is arguably just as sharp as his grappling skills. It’s quickly become a matter of ‘pick your poison’ for many of his opponents, Erceg already claims a win via knockout against his next opponent in title challenger, Paul Loga.  

Perhaps the biggest statement win to date was the submission win against then champion, Shannon Ross at Eternal 52, the crowning moment in his surging run to his first title shot. A win via rear naked choke by Erceg was something he predicted in the lead up to their title fight. But what made it even more impressive was the calibre of his opponent. At the time, Ross was undefeated at Flyweight with 5 wins in that weight class. A streak that would culminate in a round 3 knockout victory over mutual opponent Paul Loga.

Erceg made a huge statement in his title fight victory over Shannon Ross.

That run would be brought to a sudden halt, as the Jiu-Jitsu brown-belt did what he does best and picked up the submission win in the very first round. Showcasing his vast skillset, Erceg mixed up his strikes to the head and body, softening the legs of Ross with sharp kicks, all the while utilising his combinations to good effect. 

A dangerous and powerful striker, Ross gave Erceg plenty to think about early even while spending most of the fight on the back foot. But it was Erceg who would get the better of the exchanges with a perfectly timed right-hand counter to the side of the head of Ross, dropping him to the canvas. 

The fight would never leave the mat and it would never make it out of the first round. 

Deadly, calculated, ruthless. 

Fast forward to October, with another hard-earned victory under his belt and a rematch with Paul Loga on the horizon, Stephen Erceg’s attention is now firmly back on his weight class that he calls home. It is clear to Erceg that the battle with Cody Haddon was an experience that levelled him up in all the ways that truly matter.

Speaking with Eternal MMA, Erceg gave his thoughts on how the fight with Haddon elevated him as a mixed martial artist.  

“You always learn something from every fight. There was a lot of things in that fight, mostly from a heart perspective. You know you’ve got the skills and everything. But you watch something Volkanovski vs Ortega last weekend, you see those guys get put in the positions you’re like, could I even do that? 

“I was that tired after the third (round), could I go to the fourth like Ortega did or get out of the triangle? When you get put in those moments and you get to look back and you’re like oh man, yeah, I am that tough too. I can dig deep when I’m absolutely f*****.”

Erceg levelled up in all the areas that matter at Eternal 60.

After speaking with Erceg, it became apparent that his qualities not only as a competitor, but as a human being, could be in-part attributed to a close unit and support system within his camp. The relationship shared with his coach (Wilkes Martial Arts and Fitness Academy head coach, David Wilkes) and his father Matthew, is something that has been voiced by Stephen after past fights. It is his belief that the guidance provided from the pair have been the biggest contributing factors to his success.

“After watching one of the UFC events where Brock Lesnar fought, I just told Dad I really want to do MMA. So, he found an MMA gym and took me to (that) gym.”  

“I quickly realised that at that gym it wasn’t a ‘fight’ gym, it was a martial arts gym. It was ‘Mixed Martial Arts’, but it wasn’t (necessarily) for competition. So, my dad and I both did that together for a long time. And then eventually, one of the guys from that gym got booked to do a sparring day. I didn’t realise that you could fight from our gym at the time, so I was obviously very excited. 

“I told my dad that I wanted to fight, and I’d just turned 18 at that stage. Obviously, I told my mum and everything as well… Mum was obviously against me fighting. 

“Dad was the first one to say, ‘look, he’s 18 he can do what he wants’, and so he supported me in that decision. Obviously, my mum’s there to support me but, she’s obviously worried about her little boy getting beat up and all that sort of stuff. So, she was just trying to protect me in a different way.”

Erceg’s father is a huge factor in his success.

“(Dad) obviously held pads for me, he was there in my corner. He’s been there, always. He helps coach at the gym now. He’s been doing it as long as I have, so he coaches the MMA class at the gym now as well. Which is obviously very helpful for me because it means I can spend more time training. 

“I go to my parents house once a week or so. I can talk to him about different things, we have a very close relationship in that way.” 

Of course, every athlete needs a symbiotic relationship with a coach in order to reach the upper echelons of their respective crafts. For Stephen Erceg, David Wilkes figures as the man behind the pads on a weekly basis and has been vital in Erceg’s meteoric rise to flyweight champion. Though the coach himself was also initially taken by surprise when it came to his attention that Erceg had plans to fight inside the cage.

“He had fought competitively for a long time.” –  said Erceg on his coach.

“When I said I wanted to fight, I think it sort of took him by surprise too. And he goes ‘look, if you’re going to fight, you need somebody to hold pads and coach you. Do you want me to do that for you’? And I said, ‘I’d love it if you held pads for me’. So, twice a week, every week he’d hold pads and all that sort of stuff in the lead up to the sparring day. I had my sparring day; it went well and then we kept doing the same thing (going forward).”

The coach-student relationship for Wilkes and Erceg would eventually lead to a job offer being tabled to the man they call ‘AstroBoy’ at the same gym where he trains. Another piece of the puzzle falling into place that would help solidify a solid base of work and training to support a burgeoning career in mixed martial arts. 

“He’s been very good.” said Erceg. 

“I work at the gym. He gave me a job at the gym. He’s helped me build my life around martial arts and fighting. So, without those two (Erceg’s father and Coach Wilkes) I couldn’t even dream of doing what I’m doing right now.”  

It’s this support network that will continue to play a key role in the lead up to Erceg’s upcoming rematch against Paul Loga. Only this time, there is silverware on the line as Erceg will be looking to make his first title defence since he first won the flyweight belt from Shannon Ross. 

A highly touted matchup prior to their first meeting would end in quick fashion, with Erceg winning by knockout in the very first round on the main card at Eternal 47. While the fight may have ended early, it was not without its early challenges for Erceg, as Loga pushed a heavy pace from the opening bell – pumping his jab to good effect and landing some seemingly heavy right hands-on Erceg’s chin. Of course, it wouldn’t be the story of the night, as Erceg literally punched his ticket for a future title shot with a swift left hook to the chin of Loga, leaving the referee no choice but to step in. 

Erceg and Loga originally met back at Eternal 47.

Since then, Loga has gone on a two-fight win streak of his own, and earning himself a rematch with the now champion, Erceg. A prospect that has the champ eager to prove once again, just who the king of the hill is at 57 kilograms. 

“It’s something I wanted to do, fight him again.” –  said Erceg.

“I know to start with he was landing good shots, and it was just all of a sudden I landed this one shot and put him out. It’s not like it was super dominant and clear to everybody that I was a level above. So, I want to make sure this time that, not only that everybody knows – but he knows that it’s my title, I’m the better guy and I’m coming to take him out.”  

It’s this type of attitude that embodies what it means to be a true champion. Erceg is cognisant of the fact that – while there were certainly no question marks surrounding his first victory over Loga, there may still be a question as to who the true best fighter in the Flyweight division is. 

In his mind, he already knows the answer to that question. But this time, Erceg wants to leave no doubt. 

“I want to finish him on the feet. That’s where his strength is, and I think I’m better than him there.”

The desire is clear for anyone to see. This is a man who wants to put on a show and take his stature amongst fight fans to another level, while also gaining the respect he deserves from his peers.  Another notion that should have fans salivating is the idea that Stephen Erceg’s recent foray into a higher weight class may not be his last. With no issues competing at either weight, a game Erceg has one eye set on a potential matchup with the cream of the crop in the Bantamweight division. 

“The home for now is at Flyweight. The only reason I’d go (back) up to Bantamweight is to fight Shaun Etchell.” remarked Erceg, regarding his fighting future. 

Etchell of course is the current reigning champion in the Bantamweight division. 

But for now, Erceg’s focus is firmly squared on the upcoming rematch against Paul Loga for the undisputed Eternal Flyweight Championship at Eternal 62 in his home city of Perth. 

With an unwavering confidence, a loyal team and a healthy run of momentum on his side, we still don’t know just how high the ceiling is for one Stephen ‘AstroBoy’ Erceg.

On October 30th within the confines of the cage inside HBF Stadium, we may just get another piece the answer.

ETERNAL 62: The Rematch Is Set

Australia’s premier mixed martial arts organisation, Eternal MMA, is making its way back to Perth this month with Eternal MMA 62, featuring a card full of high octane mixed martial arts action.

Live from Perth’s HBF Stadium on October 30, Eternal MMA 62 will be headlined by a rematch between flyweight champion, Steve Erceg (7-1), and challenger, Paul Loga (7-5).

Their first meeting at Eternal MMA 47 saw Erceg stop Loga via strikes in the very first round, but the stakes have risen this time with the Eternal MMA flyweight championship on the line.

Erceg and Loga initially met back at Eternal 46.

Erceg will hope to make a third successful defence of his flyweight championship, whilst Loga is looking to stretch his two-fight winning streak into a title berth with a victory over Erceg at Eternal MMA 62.

Eternal MMA’s co-promoter Ben Vickers can’t wait for the main event.

“This is an amazing fight. Erceg did what very few, if any, do and got Loga out there early.

“Loga wants revenge and is a tough and gritty old-school fighter, and Erceg always brings top notch skills everywhere and pushes a hell of a pace. This fight will be fireworks.”

Other fights on the card include a lightweight attraction between a veteran on his last stand, Nicko Flessas (2-7), and Quillan Salkilld (0-1), who’s looking to bounce back from the loss in his professional debut.

Both fighters are hungry to get back in the win column.

“Flessas versus Salkilld is an absolute banger. It’s a must win fight for Flessas in his mid-thirties – he’s an amazing fighter and his record doesn’t do him justice – and the young prospect, Salkilld, is looking to bounce back from the loss in his professional debut.” said Vickers.

Looking forward to the event, Vickers says, “It’s very exciting to have Eternal back in WA. Eternal was instrumental in the growth of MMA in the state so it’s always very special; HBF Stadium is spectacular as well.”

The atmosphere inside the HBF Stadium is always electric!

Events are always sold out prior to doors, so get your tickets now to ensure you don’t miss out!

If you are unable to attend, viewers are able to stream the main card portion of Eternal MMA 62 live on the home of combat sports, UFC Fight Pass.

The preliminary card will be available for streaming live on Eternal MMA’s very own YouTube channel.

BUY TICKETS FOR ETERNAL MMA 62 NOW HERE OR STREAM ETERNAL MMA 62 LIVE ON UFC Fight Pass.

For further media enquiries contact Cam O’Neill: cam@eternalmma.com

Diego Pereira: The Rise Of El Pantera Negra

Diego Pereira (6-4) is a natural performer. Need proof? Just watch any of his past fights. The Brazilian fighter who now calls Australia home holds the record for the fastest knockout in Eternal MMA history, finishing Nix Agulto nine seconds into their bout with a vicious kick to the head. His last performance in the cage – a spirited loss to Jack Jenkins for the Eternal featherweight championship – was voted Eternal’s best fight of the year and the first fight in the promotion’s history to see a fourth round.

But in a year halted by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent fight cancellations, ‘El Pantera Negra’ (The Black Panther) makes his return to the cage this weekend when he fights Abdalla Eltigani (2-0) at Eternal MMA 61, a fight which he hopes will put his MMA career back on track.

Conventional wisdom would assume that Pereira has an easy task ahead of him on Saturday night – a consequence of his opponent’s relative inexperience – but there are dangers to fighting untried opponents. For one, tape on Eltigani is scarce, making him an unknown quantity to a degree. This is also the biggest fight of Eltigani’s young career, a prospect which makes him a dangerous opponent.

But Pereira understands this conundrum better than most and is preparing diligently for Eltigani by formulating a game plan based on the little tape available.

“We’re solid. There’s a few fights on Fight Pass, a few on YouTube. And though I haven’t fought any one as a professional with his physicality – being tall, lanky, a kickboxer – but as an amateur I have. And I feel like my IQ is on another level right now.”

Pereira also expects to finish Eltigani. “I think I’ll finish it inside two rounds, but I’m ready for everything. I’ll be ready if the fight goes the distance, but I have too many weapons, too many ways with which to win the fight, and though he’s a very talented young man, he’s never faced the high-level guys that I have, and he doesn’t have the experience that I have.”

This will also be the first time that Pereira has fought in over a year. In his last outing – the loss to Jenkins – Pereira suffered both a broken jaw and a hairline fracture in his right fibula, with both occurring early in the fight.

“We went to war in that fight; we made history; it was the first time that an Eternal fight had seen the fourth round.

“I suffered some pretty gnarly injuries, but I wanted it so bad. I had trained so hard, but it got to a point where my jaw was so loose that any touch to it hurt… I wanted to keep going but it was an instinct of survival where the body took over and shut down.”

However, the injuries sustained during the fight became a blessing in disguise, allowing Pereira to reset and evaluate the shortcomings in his past performances. He believes a major factor in his past defeats was how he approached the sport. Until now, he had neglected the mental aspect of combat and instead focused on the physical and technical aspects.

“The mind is like a computer: it runs everything, so if you know how to manipulate that feeling before you get to the event through breathing and visualization, it’s going to help the performance a lot more. Technically I was already at a high level, but it’s been about understanding things which help when it comes to situations where it feels like you’re about to jump off a cliff. It’s risky. You have that cold feeling in your stomach like you’re on a roller coaster.”


Growing up in Guararapes, São Paulo, Pereira lived with his mother, grandmother, and siblings. Throughout his childhood, money was always scarce. “Where I grew up in Brazil was a rough area. I come from poverty; we had enough to get by, but it was always a tight situation – we were always living cheque to cheque.”

School wasn’t a priority in Pereira’s life either, instead he left school to work odd jobs to support his family. “At 16 I dropped out of school and my mother told me that if I wasn’t going to go to school, then I would have to work and help around the house which was fine by me.”

Diego (far right – in the glasses) with his older brother and cousin on a rare BBQ day in Brazil.

Pereira’s first job was working part-time delivering food on a bicycle throughout his hometown, a job his mother had sorted for him. “I thought it was amazing. The restaurant had amazing food and they would feed us too, and at the end of each week I would have some money. Some went to my mother, and some went to myself so I could play video games and eat food we usually couldn’t afford like biscuits and candy.” 

As a teenager, Pereira didn’t care for MMA. In fact, he knew nothing about it. He hadn’t heard of jiu-jitsu, nor the Brazilian icon, Royce Gracie. “To me it didn’t exist. I didn’t seek it; I didn’t have friends who did it. I’m sure it was popular, but to me it didn’t exist. I wasn’t watching any TV; I was oblivious to it.”

Pereira was introduced to combat sports through capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art dating back to the sixteenth century, first practiced by slaves during Portuguese rule in Brazil.

The martial art is distinguished by its acrobatic play, its extensive use of groundwork, as well as sweeps, kicks, and headbutts. Though unlike most martial arts, capoeira is more akin to a dance than a fight. As such, music is an integral feature and functions as its soundtrack, to culturally guide its participants through lyrics which acknowledge slavery, spirituality, and the sport itself.

Later, through a government initiative which aimed to keep Brazilian youth off the streets, Pereira was introduced to kung-fu and ballet. “At the time I was only interested in doing kung fu, but to do kung fu I also had to do ballet and as a kid I didn’t want to do ballet. And as a kid you have all these misconceptions about it, but it was amazing.”

Diego after winning his first kung-fu medal.

Pereira’s journey to Australia began around this time too, a move which irreversibly altered his life. “My uncle was here in Australia already. He moved to work in the meatworks, because at the time Australia needed skilled workers in the area, so they had to outsource guys to come over here and work, and my uncle was one of those people.”

Realising how much the move would benefit Pereira and his siblings as it had for him, Pereira’s uncle planned for Pereira and his siblings to settle in the country. “My uncle was supporting us a lot at the time and figured that we could come to Australia as his dependents. To do so he had to prove that we depended upon him financially, and at first my older brother was able to leave and joined my uncle working in the meatworks.”

Two years later, his uncle offered Pereira the same opportunity as his brother, but it was dependent on Pereira returning to school. “At the time I quit my jobs and went to night school to finish my high school degree. So, I went back, started studying more; I went to a different city and started living with my aunt, and before I could complete my studies, my uncle called me and said I was good to go.”

In Australia, Pereira joined his uncle and elder brother and began working at the meatworks. This is where Pereira first became aware of mixed martial arts. “A guy I was working with told me about Anderson Silva, who was the champion at the time, and whether I was familiar and I wasn’t, and that’s how I got interested in MMA. Then when I got home I started researching and digging, finding out about Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, and I thought maybe I should do that.”

Once discovering MMA, Pereira began searching for a gym and trained around Queensland for the next few years.

With the support of his uncle, Pereira was able to quit his job and dedicated himself to mixed martial arts full time. He ventured back to Brazil to train at the legendary Rio De Janeiro gym, Nova União. Home to some of Brazil’s greatest mixed martial arts talent, including Jose Aldo and Renan Barao.

But having adjusted to life in Australia, Pereira found it difficult to live in Brazil. “I really loved the training, but I didn’t like the environment. I wasn’t living in the slums of Rio, but there was too much traffic, too many people and I began feeling lonely, so I started thinking back to life in Australia and decided I didn’t want to be here anymore.”

Afterwards, Pereira returned to Queensland and became an Australian citizen. This allowed him to begin searching for gyms in the United States to continue developing his craft, something that wasn’t possible in Queensland.

“After looking around, I came across Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They had dorm rooms which I thought sounded perfect because I could sleep upstairs, go downstairs and train. So, I figured out how much it would cost, and I contacted them and got accepted because you had to be invited.”

When Pereira arrived at Jackson-Wink, he understood how different his life would be for the next few months. “Every time you go down the stairs you see guys like Andrei Arlovski, Jon Jones, Alistair Overeem, Holly Holm, all of these stars. And then to see Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn, all these guys you’d see coaching in the UFC, it was like wow I’ve made it. I’m actually here.

“Living in that environment was extremely new and extremely outside of my comfort zone. For the first month I hated it, sometimes I felt unsafe, there were some weird dudes there, some crazy motherfuckers, but it was a good growth period for me personally. I figured out that I was my own man and that I could handle my shit there.”

In Queensland, the gym Pereira has called home for the past decade is Southside MMA. He credits his coaches Paul Stolyar and Damage Maea – affectionately called ‘Uncle Dez’ – for his development in the sport.

“They’ve influenced me so much, Paul’s such a passionate coach and such a selfless being and we’ve done so much growth together. Those two are the heart of Southside MMA, if not for them the team would have fallen apart. They’ve influenced me so much, not just as an athlete but also a person through how they carry themselves in and out of the gym.

“And Uncle Dez was so supportive. When I was overseas, he would help me out financially whenever I needed it and he always believed. And when I got back he was the first to stick his hand out and help me and start doing pads.”

L to R: Uncle Dez, Diego, Paul Stoyler

All these experiences have led Pereira to Eternal MMA 61 this Saturday.

“I’m now reaching my prime, I’m 29 so right now I have everything coming full circle: the mental, the physical; I’m comfortable in my own body. Everything is coherent now.

“I’m constantly running scenarios in my brain: everything from the walk out; the music; the taste; my heartbeat; can I feel those emotions? Can I hear the people screaming my name?”

‘Will there be any signs of rust?’ I ask. “No rust.” Pereira tells me.

Stream the Eternal 61 main card live on UFC Fight Pass – Saturday Sep 11.

SPOTLIGHT: Kepu vs James

It hasn’t been without its challenges, but Eternal 61 is finally upon us. And with that comes a slew of tantalising matchups that promise to have the mouths of fight fans watering.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen some unfortunate cancelations and postponements to several fights, including the push back to a later date for the upcoming event itself.

But with the card now firmly locked into place, one matchup that is sure to produce fireworks is Nick Kepu vs Jack James.

The two exciting middleweight prospects have been tasked with kicking off the main card this Saturday, and both are looking to make a big impression in front of a packed crowd at Southport Sharks.

With Kepu having already made his pro debut against Sam Dobb at Eternal 57 – an absolute showstopper in which he emerged victorious by way of split decision, the hard hitting Muay Thai Mulisha stalwart will be looking to capitalise on his momentum with a big win against Jack James.

‘Slick’ Nick Kepu is coming off a crowd-pleasing performance at Eternal 57.

“I just don’t see enough power in his striking to take me out” – Kepu told Eternal MMA when questioned about his upcoming opponent. “I just feel like I’m going to walk him down, stalk him, and pretty much take him out in either the first or the second (round). That’s just my honest opinion.”

On his goals with Eternal MMA, Kepu was measured in his approach to the future.

“The goal with Eternal is obviously to fight the champ whenever Cam (Eternal MMA promotor – Cam O’Neill) gives me that opportunity. But I don’t look past my next opponent. My job this weekend is Jack James. I just need to get the job done and then after that we can start talking from there. But until then, I don’t really look too far.”

Making his pro debut on the other side of the cage, Jack James is looking at making his own waves within the Eternal MMA organisation. The young up and comer is ready for the challenge that lies ahead.

Jack James is confident he’ll get his hand raised at Eternal 61. Source: @bangjackjits

When asked of his impressions on his upcoming opponent, James had the following to say, “We’ve got a game plan sorted for him.”

“I just think once I start picking up the volume and (implement) heaps of movement and get a takedown or two, he won’t be able to keep up.”

When asked if he had a prediction on how he see’s his hand being raised, James gave a confident, matter of fact answer,

“Ground and pound.”

James has lofty goals of his own when it comes to his Eternal MMA career, mirroring the sentiments of his Eternal 61 adversary,

“I want to keep fighting pro, I want to win the belt.” Said James.

“Middleweight 84 kilo champion.”

With both athletes full of confidence and their sights firmly set on each other, as well as a successful run against Eternal MMA’s middleweight elites, this is a fight that simply cannot be missed.

Stream the Eternal 61 main card live on UFC Fight Pass – Saturday Sep 11.