New Zealand’s Carlos Ulberg isn’t as well-known as his champion teammates Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski, but that might all be about to change after UFC 259.
The former model will make his official UFC debut on the stacked card against Nigerian Kennedy Nzechukwu, and if the bout is anything like Ulberg’s sensational knockout victory on Dana White’s Contender Series, it will have fans sitting up and taking notice.
However, as is typical of people from his part of the world, the Kiwi light heavyweight is pretty relaxed about the whole thing.
“I’m feeling really great, man,” says the 30-year-old. “I’m starting to smile a lot more because I know all of the hard work in training is done. I couldn’t be in a better place right now.”
Another product of Auckland’s famed City Kickboxing gym, the “Black Jag” took just over two minutes to knock out Brazilian Bruno Oliveira on DWCS, impress the UFC President and earn himself a UFC contract.
“He has a ton of kickboxing experience. And he beat a guy tonight – easily – with six knockouts and one submission on his record,” enthused White, joking, “Do you think he’s marketable? He’s a good-looking kid, right? How do you have that many fights and have a face like that? It doesn’t even make sense.”
It’s a good question. But Carlos, who has twice been asked to appear on the New Zealand edition of The Bachelor, is fully focused on MMA, even if he did originally jump into the sport with just two weeks’ training…
“My friend was running a show and asked me if I’d like to fight. I put up my hand and fought. Before that, I didn’t know much about MMA. I came away with the win and it went on from there.”
However, Ulberg then spent years honing his striking on the kickboxing circuit, during which time he won two of his homeland’s prestigious King of the Ring tournaments, with his next MMA bout not coming until 2018.
Which brings us back to Dana White’s Contender Series last November, only his fifth professional MMA fight, and the vicious knockout that has made him a 205er to watch.
“That was an amazing experience,” recalls Ulberg. “It filled me with confidence having Brad [Riddell] and Israel in my corner. It wasn’t the best of camps leading up to it, but we made it work. It was the type of fight I expected – I knew he was going to come out like he did. But I’ve still got more work to do and things to learn.”
So what fuels this fighter, who could make a far less dangerous living walking the fashion runways?
“My dad was a boxer, so I think it’s in my blood. Growing up, I was a big fan of Muhammad Ali. He was a great inspiration. Now, I look around the gym at the people I’m training with and that’s where I get my inspiration.”
The other members of the City Kickboxing team have plenty of praise for his abilities, too, with Adesanya telling an interviewer, “I have to deal with him – and I’m the f***ing world champ – and when he gives me problems, he gives me problems. No-one wants to hold pads for him. Your forearms are dead...he’s a specimen.”
Carlos isn’t getting too far ahead of himself, though. Right now, he’s just concentrating on UFC 259 and Kennedy Nzechukwu.
“This is the biggest and most important fight of my career. I’m happy that I’m coming into it with my mind right and in the best physical condition. I don’t know exactly how it will play out, but if I go in with the right attitude, I know I’ll get what I want.”
And if he spoils those good looks in the process?
“Good looks come from within, man.”