UFC: Carlos Ulberg eyes title showdown with Alex Pereira, before long-awaited Octagon return against Alonzo Menifield

Carlos Ulberg celebrates his win over Jong Da-Un.
Carlos Ulberg celebrates his win over Jong Da-Un. Photo credit: Getty Images

Standing with his hands raised in the middle of the Octagon at UFC 293 at Sydney last September, Carlos Ulberg's stock had just peaked, after a sensational final-round finish of Jung Da-Un.

The Kiwi kickboxing convert's maiden submission victory in professional mixed martial arts spoke volumes of his rapid evolution as a fighter, while earning him a headturning fourth straight win inside the distance and extending his win streak to five bouts.

Pundits and UFC matchmakers alike began filing through a list of ranked candidates for Ulberg to make a hasty turnaround against to ensure his momentum continued its steep upwards trajectory.

The index finger eventually landed on former title challenger and No.14-ranked Dominick Reyes, a fighter with the name recognition that would look great on Ulberg's CV, but their scheduled rendezvous in January was scuppered by an injury to the City Kickboxing product.

Their fight date was pushed back to March, until Reyes was diagnosed with blood clots in his leg that forced him to withdraw from competition indefinitely.

Alonzo Menifield was promoted as an injury replacement to meet Ulberg at New Jersey. The UFC then decided to reschedule the contest, which brings us to this weekend at St Louis - nine long months since Ulberg last strapped on a UFC glove in anger.

Ever the optimist, the 'Black Jag' has a silver-lined perspective on the entire situation. More time waiting simply equates to more time honing his craft and sharpening his tools for what he envisions will be yet another statement performance this weekend.

"It's been tough, but it's given me more time in the gym, which is good," Ulberg told Newshub. "It's allowed me to be more focused, stay in the gym and not get lulled into the holidays.

"The stopping and starting of the camp has been obviously frustrating, but it's allowed me to stay fit, so I see it as a blessing."

In fact, the overall outcome of the scenario has worked in Ulberg's favour. American Menifield may not have the profile of Reyes - who once pushed the great Jon Jones to the limit in a light-heavyweight world title fight - but his recent record is much more impressive.

At No.11 in the official divisional rankings, he's three spots higher than Reyes, who's lost three-straight fights since his bout with Jones and has been plagued by injury. 

In stark contrast, the bulldozing Menifield (15-3) is undefeated in his past five bouts and presents Ulberg with a golden opportunity to make a bold first entry to the top-15 rankings.

Ulberg believes their paths were destined to cross.

"Look at it, we're now facing someone who's No.11 ranked and before you know it, we could be in title contention, so you've got to look at the bright side of things.

"I knew eventually I'd have I'd be facing Menifield. I met him out in Perth when he fought [Australian Jimmy ]Crute and we spoke to each other... gave each other the look where it's like we know we're going to face each other eventually.

"It may not be the first time we fight. I see him to be a very top contender - I think he'd be able to take some of the guys in that top five.  

Carlos Ulberg submits Jong Da-Un.
Carlos Ulberg submits Jong Da-Un. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It's definitely going to be an entertaining one. He's got a lot of power - explosive power - and this could be Fight of the Night."

With five fights under his belt in the world's premier MMA promotion, the two-time King in the Ring champion says he's now feeling much more comfortable in a cage.

He learned a brutal, albeit highly valuable lesson in the importance of patience from his debut defeat to Fight of the Night winner Kennedy Nzechukwu and has been dominant in his five consecutive victories since, including a stretch of three first-round stoppages.

Ulberg admits his most recent win via submission may have provided the biggest shot of confidence yet, an undeniable endorsement of the strength of his grappling game - an area kickboxers transitioning to MMA traditionally struggle with.

Reflecting on how far he's come in just three years exclusively focused on MMA, Ulberg says he's almost unrecognisable as a fighter.

"The loss against Kennedy was a blessing in disguise, because I took a step back and I had time to think," he explained. "I was dominant in kickboxing, but the MMA game is so much different.

"You have to worry about getting taken down, the four-ounce gloves, the five minutes in comparison to three minutes is a massive jump. Adjusting to that and learning the tools to go along with what I have now - I'm just learning to break barriers.

"That's what I've been learning about myself, being able to break as many barriers as I can.

Alonzo Menifield.
Alonzo Menifield. Photo credit: Getty Images

"In terms of my fitness levels and the technical sides of things and learning mixed martial arts as a game, strategy has been a big thing for me."

Now one of light-heavyweight's surging prospects, Ulberg, 33, could very quickly find himself around the title conversation in a division crying out for fresh challengers for champion Alex Pereira.

While he only has one title defence to his name, 'Poatan' has already shown signs he could be poised for an historic UFC tenure, with suggestions he may step up to heavyweight and attempt to become the first-ever to titles in three different divisions.

Ulberg confesses he has manifested a match-up with the Brazilian he's adamant is inevitable.

"I know it's going to happen. I know eventually it's going to happen, for sure.

"It's definitely a fight that I want to have for sure.  

"He's dominant right now. He's looking at fighting someone like [Jon] Jones.  

"To get a match up like that would be quite good for me and then also to have that win over him will be quite good for me."

Ulberg and Menifield lock horns on a card headlined by a heavyweight slobberknocker between the eternally entertaining Derrick Lewis and Rodrigo Nascimento.