MMA: Carlos Ulberg out to become NZ's next UFC fighter with Dana White's Contender Series berth

New Zealand's latest UFC hopeful, Carlos Ulberg, is yet to enter the Octagon, but he already has first-hand experience of life as a fighter preparing for the sport's biggest stage.

The 29-year-old was part of the wider City Kickboxing team that lived and trained at the gym's fight 'marae' to help four of fighters - including Israel Adesanya - prepare for bouts at UFC 253 last month.

He then traveled to Abu Dhabi to continue those preparations for the event, while simultaneously cutting weight himself, as an opportunity arose to fill in as a late injury replacement on one of the 'Fight Island' cards.

As it turned out, his potential opponent opted for a less 'challenging' option, but Ulberg will nonetheless have an opportunity to secure a fulltime future with the UFC via Dana White's Contender Series next month.

"Me and [teammate] Blood [Diamond] had come along with the team, knowing there could be a possibility of us fighting on either one of the cards in Abu Dhabi or get the opportunity to fight in the Contender Series," Ulberg tells Newshub.

"We'd come back to Auckland, and have been going back and forth with the matchmakers to try to get us in, then they confirmed everything in the last week or so."

Light heavyweight Ulberg - aka 'Mr Marvellous' - will compete as the headline act of the series event against Bruno Oliveira on November 5 in Las Vegas, where UFC president White rewards those he deems the most impressive fighters with full-time contracts.

Ulberg with teammates and UFC fighters Israel Adesanya and Brad Riddell.
Ulberg with teammates and UFC fighters Israel Adesanya and Brad Riddell. Photo credit: Instagram/@carlosulberg

Standing alongside Adesanya as one of only two King in the Ring champions in different weight divisions, Ulberg has steadily developed his all-round mixed martial arts skills at the renowned Central Auckland fighter factory, with a chance to become its fifth UFC fighter.

A part-time model, Ulberg was once short-listed for The Bachelor NZ reality show, but turned it down to concentrate on his fight career and the fruits of that labour are starting to bear.

"Now that I have my foot in the door, it just brings that extra bit of energy," he says. "I'm now starting to switch and think 'oh wow, I'm this close'."

"Everything has just been fast tracked, and now it's time for me to sit down and really start to take this seriously, and note that its a full time job for me now.

"I'm not thinking in the back of my head, 'will I ever get the chance?' Now it's like, 'okay, I'm nearly there', and now I'm doing more reading and focusing on details to better myself in the game."

Ulberg on the catwalk at NZ Fashion Week in 2018.
Ulberg on the catwalk at NZ Fashion Week in 2018. Photo credit: Getty

While he has a wealth of kickboxing experience, Ulberg's MMA record currently stands at 2-0.

Trainer Mike Angove admits Ulberg is still in his relative infancy, but believes his ceiling is sky-high, possessing a rare brand of power.

"He's got so much raw potential," Angove tells Newshub. "He's a little bit like a light-heavyweight version of [UFC heavyweight star] Francis Ngannou, in that you can see he gets better and better and more polished with every fight, and Carlos is exactly the same.

"What's scary is he's already the hardest kicker in the gym and he's improved his technique there, and they've just got harder and harder.

"We had a sparring session yesterday, and neither Brad [Riddell] nor Israel [Adesanya] enjoyed the kicks."

Ulberg after his second King in the Ring triumph.
Ulberg after his second King in the Ring triumph. Photo credit: Supplied

Ulberg's ground game is developing rapidly and Angove is confident he has the foundation to compete at the sport's highest level. 

"He's a guy who has plenty we can polish up, but is already very, very good. He has a natural aptitude and a quick learning capacity, and the work ethic to go with it, so it's very, very promising."

As it happens, Ulberg is currently still in quarantine in Auckland, where he shares an extended bubble with Angove, Riddell and Adesanya, who will all likely travel back to 'Sin City' to corner Ulberg for his fight.

Converting hotel rooms into fight gyms has allowed him to maintain the prime condition he established in Abu Dhabi, which is critical, given the short turnaround between leaving quarantine and jetting back to the US.

That will round out almost four months in the combat trenches for Ulberg and he isn't complaining one bit, insisting everything has played out to an uncanny degree of perfection.

"The lockdown we had in the gym, Abu Dhabi, Las Vega - everything has just fallen into place," says Ulberg.

"It was a blessing in disguise that we got the opportunity to stay at the gym and get to work with each other, and we got to build a stronger relationship with each other, as a group and as a team.

"Having Brad and Israel come over with me is an amazing feeling, because not only have I built that relationship with the boys, I do respect them as well - they're like brothers."

The rare insight he gained in Abu Dhabi has only added to Ulberg's motivation and now it's time to cash in on the grind.

"I've always had confidence in that, but just being on this trip has given me so much more motivation."