Just weeks out from the UFC’s return to Auckland, New Zealand, Joshua Culibao received the opportunity of a lifetime. Culibao was assigned a task — defeat the lengthy and durable Jalin Turner, which isn’t easy by any means, on short notice.
“It just hasn’t sunken in yet man, it honestly hasn’t sunken in yet,” Culibao told John Hyon Ko.
“Nothing feels different besides people congratulating me before I’ve even won. Whereas if I was fighting locally they’d wait until after I won to congratulate me, but they already seem to be congratulating me on making it to the UFC.”
Competing in the UFC is an achievement only a few are able to accomplish, and there are a variety of paths one can take in order to secure an exhilarating stint in the promotion. Winning on the Contender Series, appearing on Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight, or simply being scouted are all ways to propel a fighter to the big leagues.
For the young Culibao, his chance came as a short notice fight he couldn’t turn down.
“This is where I’m going to make the biggest statement. I’ve got the most eyes on me and this is where I’m going to make the most money. It’s definitely the beginning of my career, and every fight from here on out is going to be the biggest test.”
The Octagon touches base in Auckland, New Zealand, on February 22, and what better way to show off the Oceanic talent than with a stellar cluster of fights.
Culibao (8-0) received the short notice call-up from the UFC, with his first promotional outing coming against lanky lightweight Jalin Turner. The Australian normally competes in the featherweight division, however, he has no issues taking the fight against the larger Turner.
Culibao explained to John Hyon Ko that this isn’t the first time he’s accepted a contest in a different weight division and has, in fact, fought heavier than lightweight in the past.
“I’ve actually fought at a catchweight of 85 kilos [180 pounds]. When I was 15, 16, I was pushing nearly 100 kilos – I think I was like 95, 98 kilos. And I just started training and dropped the 15 kilos, got down to 80 kilos because my coach just wanted to get me a fight at the time as I seemed to be doing very well in the gym.
“For someone that fights at featherweight now, I was carrying a lot of fat at 77 kilos. Literally I just wouldn’t eat dinner – I wouldn’t eat the day [of weigh ins]. So that was basically it, I didn’t really cut weight for 77 kilos. But all the dietary stuff I’ve learned through experience, books, and watched other fighters and what they tend to eat. So yeah, just trying to figure out what works for me.
“I’m happy fighting up a weight class. I’m not draining myself, I’m not killing myself. For me to make the 66-kilo division, it’s always the last two or three kilos that suck.”
Culibao has been working extensively on his grappling to ensure every loose end of his game is securely fastened.
“I’ve actually been doing a lot of grappling lately, a lot of jiu-jitsu. You know, everyone’s playing those 50/50 leg lock games, with heel hooks and all that stuff. It’s become a trend so I felt like I needed to catch up on that stuff because I’ve sort of neglected my jiu-jitsu for a long time. So I’ve been mucking around with the legs and just having fun with the training.”
In preparation for his matchup with 6-foot-3-inch tall lightweight Jalin Turner, Culibao has been training with athletes much larger than himself. This will give the Australian an indicator as to what his February 22 showdown could look like.
He listed close training partners who have aided him in his intense preparation for Turner.
“Tali, who’s a middleweight amateur champion three or four times straight already. He’s a killer and he’s perfect because he’s tall like Jalin. I think he’s 6’7 or 6’8, and he’s a southpaw kickboxer.
“I have Joel Kendrick who has actually trained with Jalin before. Joel’s actually one of my closest friends and he’s a tall guy, he knows how to imitate Jalin so it’s awesome. Even though it’s a short camp, I’m just trying to get as much work in with those guys because it’s valuable. As much as I’d like to be training with guys my size, it’s not happening — I’ve got to get ready for a guy who’s another five inches taller than I am.”
Many fighters have succumbed to the added pressure of being apart of a UFC card for the very first time. But Culibao believes his ‘nothing to lose’ mentality will spice up the bout and may belittle his pre-fight nerves.
“I’ve got nothing to lose. I go out there and perform, I put on a fight, and win, lose or draw, I get to show everyone what I’ve been saying from the beginning I belong there and I can eat. Even at lightweight, I belong there and I’m going to show everybody that supports me that they’re right. I’m going to go out there and put on a performance. Either way, it’s going to be a crowd-pleasing fight.”
“When I first got into the sport it was always to fight the best. You know, I always thought that fighting the best meant you were the best. You get the most money, you get the most fame, but all that stuff comes with having the mindset of just thinking that you’re the best, fighting the best guys and beating the best guys.”