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Reece McLaren: Inspired by his Filipino roots

Australian flyweight contender opens up about his Filipino roots

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Australia’s Reece McLaren heads into ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY knowing a win will book him a title bout with reigning ONE Flyweight Champion Adriano Moraes.

McLaren takes on Gianni Subba in the main event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in a bout that sees him take on a local favourite in a battle between two of the world’s top flyweight contenders.

McLaren’s martial arts journey has been one of personal discovery as well as technical development. Not only has he learned his craft to the point that he’s now an elite-level competitor, he’s also discovered his roots, which lie both in Australia and the Philippines.

McLaren’s mother is Australian, but his biological father was born in the Philippines. McLaren met him, but during his career the martial arts star was able to uncover more information about his family as he learned more about his heritage.

“I have never met my biological father or anything, so I do not know much of my Filipino side,” the 26-year-old admitted during an interview with ONE Championship.

“My step-dad is one of the hardest workers I have ever met, and I dare say I get a lot of my work ethic from him.

“It is inspiration for myself to keep pushing and striving for greatness.”

But soon after his ONE Championship debut in the Philippines back in December 2015, McLaren felt compelled to delve into his family’s history to learn more.

His heritage eventually led to him being adopted by the Filipino fans, but it wasn’t an instant process.

During his bout with Mark Striegl, the Filipino crowd were firmly behind McLaren’s opponent, but once the Manila fans realised he was of Filipino descent, their attitude to him changed completely. There has been a strong bond between McLaren and the Filipino fans ever since.

“For me, it was a personal connection,” he said, during a visit to Manila.

“My biological dad is from Manila. There was an interest to go there and to see it, a curiosity. To go there and compete was amazing.

“However, I was competing against the hometown favorite Mark Striegl, who is an absolute superstar in the Philippines, so it was hostile ground.

“But then, once the info got around that I was half-Filipino, I was really welcomed the second and third time [I competed there]. It is almost like competing at home now.”

He received the backing of the fans when he returned to Manila and beat Muin Gafurov, and won the support of the fans in his narrow defeat to ONE Bantamweight Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes.

“They really embraced me,” he said.

“I think it is the Filipino way. They really embrace their own, and it is beautiful.”

Now proudly competing as an Australian-Filipino, McLaren has embraced his heritage and now it’s a permanent part of his life.

And when he wins, he now does so for two countries, instead of just the one.

Interview by ONE Championship. Story by Simon Head.

Freelance sports writer and MMA reporter with 19 years’ experience in the UK's national media covering major sporting events including UFC world title fights, Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Championships, Grand National and the FA Cup Final.

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