Tall task for Culibao: UFC Auckland

We're just ten days out from the biggest combat sports event in the countries history, but for one young Australian fighter UFC Auckland will hold even more significance. Australian featherweight turned lightweight for this matchup, Joshua Culibao, is set to make his UFC debut against Jalin Turner after fellow Australian, Jamie Mullarkey, withdrew from the event due to injury.

It's a tall task (pun definitely intended) for the diminutive debutant who will need to overcome an enormous five-inch height advantage he gives up to the American Lightweight and, according to Culibao at least, "probably a similar reach advantage." The undefeated Aussie is not shying away from the task though, coming into this short notice fight 8-0 in professional MMA, he seems more than ready to snap up this opportunity to make an impression on the sports biggest stage. NZ Fighter caught up with Culibao who is currently in camp for the matchup of his life.

"The key I think will be a lot of movement and forward pressure" said Culibao of his game plan ahead of the fight. "Speed, and having no pressure on me, that's my advantage, he's got all the pressure on him coming in against a smaller guy with a full camp, he's expected to win." It's true that Turner will be under pressure to get a good victory out of this fight, after a stoppage at Dana White's contender series earned him the opportunity to fight in the UFC, he's since gone on to a disappointing 1-2 record from his three promotional appearances. The former Bellator fighter came into the UFC as a highly touted knockout artist, having only had two of his so far thirteen professional MMA fights go the distance, but after losses to Vicente Luque and Matt Frevola, he now needs a W against Culibao to right the ship.

At 6'3" Turner is already pretty big for the lightweight division, having stepped up a weight class himself to debut in the UFC at welterweight, though it's not the first time Culibao has been in the heavier classes. At 5'10", Culibao started his amateur career as welterweight, dropping a huge amount of weight after once tipping the scales at close to 100kgs in his youth. "It wasn't so much martial arts, more so I just experimented with my diet" Culibao told NZ Fighter. "I'll definitely be heading back down to featherweight after this fight though, featherweight is my division and it's the division I feel the sharpest."

It's a division currently ruled by another Australian after City Kickboxing charge Alexander Volkanovski took the title from Max Holloway in December. "We have trained together before" Culibao said of his Aussie compatriot "he's one of the nicest blokes I've ever met and he inspires me to want to reach the level he's reached." And silverware is a goal he certainly has his sights on, having won featherweight championships in Hex Fight Series and Diamondback FC, when quizzed on his goals in the UFC, Culibao said "the goal is always the belt."

Culibao wasn't expecting a callup to the UFC, when quizzed if a debut was always on the cards he told us "To be honest I don’t think soo. I felt I was getting overlooked" now that he has it though, we're sure it's an opportunity this talented fighter won't let pass him by. Check out Culibao vs Turner and all the other action when the UFC returns to Auckland for UFC Fight Night: Hooker vs Felder next Sunday, 23 February.

Written by Jamie Patterson

Jamie Patterson is the Creative Director for New Zealand Fighter. Jamie has been involved with boxing and martial arts for most of his life. He boxed as a teenager and competed in point fighting whilst at University. As a photographer Jamie has taken pictures at some of the largest boxing and MMA events in the country in recent years. Jamie has been a professional writer working in advertising and television for almost a decade and brings a wealth of creative experience to the team.