Former ONE World Title challenger and fifth-ranked flyweight Reece “Lightning” McLaren of Gold Coast, Australia put the brakes on Aleksi Toivonen’s hype train, putting forth a statement-making victory over the Finnish warrior last Friday night.
The two top flyweights faced off in the co-main event of ONE: REIGN OF DYNASTIES, which took place live on 9 October from the Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore.
McLaren, who looks to earn another crack at the ONE World Title, authored a near-perfect performance against his previously unbeaten opponent, dealing Toivonen the first loss in his professional career.
“He looked game! But honestly, it didn’t matter. I was so happy to be in there, it was amazing,” McLaren said of his return to the ONE Circle. “I was totally in the moment, flowing with the go.”
Both McLaren and Toivonen are high level submission specialists. McLaren is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and the former Eternal MMA and XFL Bantamweight Champion, while Toivonen is a 3-time European Grappling Champion with over 150 matches in competition.
While many fans expected McLaren and Toivonen to crash the mat and test each other’s grappling skills, it isn’t out of the ordinary for two elite grapplers to spend most of their time on the feet. With the way they were firing power shots at the center of the Circle, it quickly became evident that fans were going to be treated to an intense striking battle — and that it was.
McLaren, in particular, looked extremely sharp and on point, fast and forceful with his combinations.
“I was very confident in my striking tonight, it’s the one aspect I have lacked. In the last few months, I feel like I’ve finally caught up to the standard. Now the next level is to excel,” said McLaren.
At the 4:18 minute mark of round two, McLaren stunned Toivonen with a combination against the fence, punctuated by a fast and debilitating knee square to the midsection. The body shot instantly crumpled Toivonen, who hit the canvas in obvious pain. The referee had no choice but to call a halt to the contest.
“That was a very instinctive strike. It was hard and went deep. I was ready to follow it up,” McLaren said of the finish.
“I was thinking of my next attack. As soon as he dropped, his body language told me everything. I knew it was over, but with the referee in there, I hoped he was going to step over and stop the match.”
Though McLaren made it look incredibly easy, the 29-year-old maintains it certainly wasn’t, and that Toivonen was dangerous all the way up to the finish.
“He certainly hits hard. In these small gloves, any blow could change the complexion of the match,” said McLaren, who gave props to Toivonen.
“He was kicking hard and low, so I had to be either out of range or punching. His striking was very good, too — very Muay Thai based, I feel. I think he was trying to wear me down, kick my legs so my movement would slow, like in a Muay Thai match.”
With the victory, McLaren makes a strong case to improve his standing in the official ONE Championship athlete rankings and climb the flyweight ladder. His ultimate goal is to re-enter the title conversation at 61.2 kilograms, a division which includes reigning ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes, and ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix Champion Demetrious Johnson.
While the competition appears to be stiff, McLaren says he is more than ready and is just waiting for his next opportunity at ONE Championship gold.