Carlos Ulberg finds success at most things he does in life. The former male model, rugby-league player and highly experienced kickboxer obviously has no shortage of ability.
However, his UFC debut against Kennedy Nzechukwu at UFC 259 last March did not go as planned, resulting in a loss.
“I gave him too much leeway to come back into that fight,” admits Ulberg. “Normally, I go for the finish, but I played around. I shouldn’t have given him a chance. But that’s the way martial arts goes sometimes.”
The bout was nonetheless named Fight of the Night, and it turns out that, in the 10 months since, the New Zealander has been hard at work at Auckland’s City Kickboxing gym improving his overall game ahead of a return at UFC 271.
“I’ve used this time to learn a lot more about MMA, which is still new to me as a professional,” explains Ulberg. “Five minutes is so different to three, man. Those extra two minutes really make a difference. I’ve worked on adjusting to that, while understanding there are other tools I can now use.”
Helping Ulberg expand on his kickboxing skills at CKB is a roster that includes the likes of UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, Dan Hooker, Brad Riddell and many other top fighters.
“It’s a whole university for me, man,” enthuses Ulberg. “It’s my career now, so I’m trying to get a master’s degree! Every day, I do my study, before training and when I get home. I watch fights and I write things down – I want to be the best I can be.
“I’ve been watching a bit of everyone, from old-school stars to newcomers. All sorts.
I like looking at the old tricks, but it’s also good to keep up with the latest things to know what the guys in my division will be planning.
“I don’t just watch the way people fight, either, but how they carry themselves outside of the Octagon.”
Never before have mindset and mental health had such a primary focus in sports, and this is one area where Ulberg is ahead of the curve.
“Meditation is key for me, and I’ve been doing it for a long time,” he reveals. “My world is pretty fast-paced, so I need to slow it down occasionally. Every day, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour, I take some time to ground myself. Everybody should do it. It really helps you to relax – and a smile can go a mile.”
Ulberg will definitely be smiling if he defeats his UFC 271 opponent, Fabio Cherant. He calls the American “dangerous, with speed and power,” noting that he respects the pedigree of Sanford MMA, where Cherant is based.
“I already know he’s got strong wrestling, and that gym has some great Dutch kickboxing,” adds Ulberg. “Fabio is coming off two losses, so I’m sure he will be desperate to change that…but I’m not sure he will have an answer for what I’m bringing.”
The Kiwi has been primarily preparing for the bout alongside 185-lb champ Adesanya, as well as exciting UFC welterweight newcomer Blood Diamond, with the fighters encouraging each other through every session in a gym reportedly buzzing with energy.
“It’s been a grueling camp, but me, Israel and Blood Diamond are peaking right now. Everybody here is in the zone. A few of the other boys like Dan and Kai [Kara-France] have just got onto upcoming cards, too. We are all guns blazing! With only a short time left to tighten things up, I’m feeling really good.”
It’s clear that the former kickboxer isn’t in the sport merely to make up the numbers, and that the loss in his debut may have been just what he needed to spur him on to the next level. If he truly is aiming for a “master’s degree in MMA,” then a victory at UFC 271 will be a big exam passed.
“You will see a difference in my game,” promises Ulberg. “A wise man once said, ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ I have a plan for this fight, and Fabio will also have a plan – but I’m quick at adjusting and at learning as I go. If you’ve paid any attention to my previous fights, you’ll know that I always show up ready to put on a show.”
UFC 271: Adesanya vs Whittaker 2 took place on Saturday, February 12, 2022, live from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.