New Zealand could have another mixed martial artist in the UFC before the end of the year, with Carlos Ulberg set to compete for a spot on the roster in November.
Ulberg will compete in the headline bout of Dana White's Contender Series on November 5 (NZ time). The Contender Series is a trial by fire, in which impressive performances are rewarded with UFC contracts.
In his corner for the fight will be teammates from Auckland's City Kickboxing Israel Adesanya, the UFC middleweight champion, and Brad Riddell, a fast rising UFC lightweight.
While UFC president Dana White has shown an affinity for knockout wins on the show, Ulberg told the Herald he won't be straying away from his game plan to search for a highlight-reel finish.
"He loves for the guys to go for the knockout and really exert themselves. We've got a game plan; I'll choose to stick to that and I think the knockout will come anyway.
"I'm not going to go hunting for it, it'll come and I'm just going to build my relationship more with Brad and Israel so, when it comes to the fight, I'll be able to listen to them a bit more. Right now, all it is is building my knowledge with what they have so I can understand them so when they call out what needs to happen, I'll be able to win with that."
It will be Adesanya's first appearance as a cornerman under the UFC banner since he cornered Dan Hooker against Marc Diakiese at UFC 219 in late 2017, while Riddell is a constant presence in the corner of UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski. Head coach Eugene Bareman will remain on home soil to help Junior Fa's preparations for his December bout against Joseph Parker.
Ulberg, who travelled with the City Kickboxing stable to Abu Dhabi for UFC 253 late last month, has been working alongside Adesanya, Riddell and gym striking coach Mike Angove throughout quarantine to hone his skills ahead of the event.
"Israel and Brad have put their hands up to come along with me. I'm super stoked with that because not only do they do amazing within their fights, but in my previous fights with King in the Ring, those are the two voices that I hear," Ulberg said.
"We've built this brotherhood where now I can listen; I can hear and I can feel what they want me to do. I'm happy and privileged to have those two."
Ulberg will square off against Brazilian Bruno Oliveira, who has eight wins in nine professional bouts with seven of those wins coming inside the distance. Oliveira was expected to fight against Canadian KB Bhullar on the date, but with Bhullar called in as a late replacement on Sunday's UFC card, Ulberg will get a shot in his place.
Ulberg in just 2-0 in his MMA career, but is a seasoned kickboxer and two-time King in the Ring champion, with those titles coming in two different weight classes. More recently, he was one of a number of fighters to observe Auckland's second lockdown within the walls of City Kickboxing in order to prepare Adesanya, Riddell, Kai Kara-France and Shane Young for their bouts at UFC 253.
While Oliveira has fought his career at middleweight (84kg), the fight will be at light heavyweight (93kg). Ulberg said his opponent stepping up in weight wouldn't necessarily be an advantage for him.
"Look at Israel – he's massive. You might think he's not as big when you see him on TV, but when you see him in real life, he's this big guy. There are some big middleweights – he'll just put a bit of size on and will be faster.
"He is a game opponent...but this is where we come in and take over."