UFC: Carlos Ulberg out to send message in UFC Fight Night showdown against Tafon Nchukwi

Kiwi-Samoan light heavyweight prospect Carlos Ulberg will tell you his upcoming third Octagon outing on Sunday (NZ time) is simply another step in his evolution towards becoming a complete mixed martial artist.

The 31-year-old South Aucklander will lock horns with Tafon Nchukwi on the preliminary portion of the UFC Fight Night at Las Vegas this weekend, where he'll be out to clinch the second consecutive victory of his young tenure with the promotion.

At UFC 271 in February, Ulberg erased the memory of his ill-fated debut by taking complete command of his bout against Fabio Cherant, conducting a three-round clinic on his way to a unanimous decision win at Houston.

Not only did that win stamp his mark on the division, but it released the often-overbearing pressure valve that comes with earning a maiden UFC victory.

Three of the two-time King in the Ring kickboxing champion's five MMA fights have come under the UFC banner, including the devastating knockout on Dana White's Contender Series that earned him his multi-fight contract.

That has meant a baptism of fire for Ulberg, graduating to such a global stage while still in the infancy of learning such a complex and relatively new craft.

"I got the monkey off my back," Ulberg told Newshub. "And I built my confidence in the mixed martial arts cage. 

"Because I've had more of a kickboxing focus in my career, getting into the cage is such a different animal, especially when you go straight on to a big stage like the UFC. Getting that [win] off my back was huge.

"I'm in my third fight now. I know what I need to do. I've got a game plan, and I'm prepared for anything that comes my way."

Ulberg prepares to take on Fabio Cherant.
Ulberg prepares to take on Fabio Cherant. Photo credit: Getty

The 'Black Jag' has been busy since his win in Texas, only briefly returning home, before heading across the Tasman to help teammate Alexander Volkanvoski prepare for his successful featherweight title defence against 'Korean Zombie' Chan Sung Jung.

Once back in Auckland, he immediately returned to the lab at City Kickboxing, and was quickly into the unique grind of training camp under coach Eugene Bareman.

But this time around - learning lessons from his previous camps - Ulberg decided to take a more introverted approach to his preparations to try and ensure his focus remained where it should be - helping speed up his growth curve.

The demands of training camp are relentless. There's no clocking off, and Ulberg has been determined to use his time and energy as efficiently as possible to guarantee maximum gains.

"It's a 24 hour job - where, for the whole eight weeks of camp, you're focussing on how much sleep you're getting, how much of the proper rest that you're getting, how much and what you're eating, what times you're eating, how to allocate your times for the different kinds of trainings that you're going to be doing during the day," he noted. It's a big task.

"What I've been trying to do more often is trying not to share too much of my energy doing my camp to other things. I've just been focusing on my camp and doing me… trying to put myself as if I'm away on holiday so that people don't try and get all mixed up with what I'm trying to do."

The blueprint for his showdown with 'Da Don' Nchukwi is similar to the one devised for his previous fight. The Cameroon-born American will also be at a four-inch height disadvantage against the 6ft 4in (193cm) Ulberg, with a game founded on his kickboxing.

The 27-year-old has recorded two wins and two losses in his four UFC outings to date. He's coming off a highlight reel knockout loss to Azamat Murzakanov in March, when - as he seemed on track to earn the judges' nod - he was felled by a spectacular flying knee in the final round.

"Nothing's different in comparison to the last fight," he insisted.  "The guys are pretty similar in height and switches stance quite a lot.

"Everything comes down to what I need to do on the day…backlogging on the preparation I've done, and just feeling comfortable in that arena and my understanding of mixed martial arts.

"When I jump into the arena, I'm prepared to do everything that it takes to get that win."

It will be a case of 'fire meets fire' come fight night, when Ulberg's distinct edge in kickboxing experience could be a decisive factor in the outcome of the bout.

But asked where his biggest advantage laid, the former fashion model flashed his trademark catwalk smile and gave the kind of answer that suggests his confidence is right where it needs to be.

"The biggest advantage I have is - I'm the 'Black Jag'," he said with a grin. "That's the biggest advantage I have. 

"He's not going to last two rounds with me, that's for sure."