Josh Culibao is a lean, mean fighting machine – but the featherweight UFC fighter used to be just the opposite.
Culibao will line up against Muay Thai specialist Choi Seung-Woo from South Korea at UFC 275 on Sunday, tipping the scales at a trim 66kg after weighing in at an incredible 100kg as a teenager.
Culibao makes weight and is ready for action at UFC 275 at at Singapore Indoor Stadium
As a teenager the Sydneysider was a self-proclaimed ‘fat kid’ who played in the middle of the field in rugby league, where every yard earned is a hard yard.
‘I was playing prop forward, a big front rower,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Being able to get roughed up, I wasn’t the tallest forward, but I was definitely one of those forwards that got in there and got dirty and made a whole bunch of tackles and made a whole bunch of hit-ups.
‘I was definitely one of them grinders in there. That rugged game sort of translated to a rugged, toughening-up mentality.
‘I just feel more comfortable with dealing with contact.
‘I had to tackle guys that were 100kg teenagers that were 6’1”, 6’2” as well.
‘You just get comfortable dealing with big, scary guys so fighting in a cage, that’s not a real big difference.’
Culibao squares up against Choi Seung-Woo from South Korea ahead of their UFC bout
It also gave Culibao a sense of cockiness, which he took into Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym as a teenager. It was there he learned some valuable lessons.
‘I went to the ju-jitsu class and I thought my size and strength, coming from a rugby background as well, I was going to throw a lot of these smaller guys around,’ he said.
‘I remember rolling and grappling one of these 60kg guys and in the span of five minutes he ended up choking me out 10 times.
‘It was really, really humbling. As soon as it happened it was like a massive thing for me that I had to learn this Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
‘I had one year training in ju-jitsu and within that one year I started to compete a lot, I started to win and it gave me a confidence boost.
‘As a fat kid, it gives you a confidence boost. It gave me an identity. It made me feel like I belong there.’
Culibao will be looking to revive his UFC career after Covid put the brakes on many major events, including his scheduled fight against Damon Jackson on January.
Unfortunately, Culibao contracted Covid and despite his best efforts to train through it, the virus had a major impact and stripped 5kg off his already lean frame.
‘I am sitting on my hands and in my head I thinking my opponent is training right now,’ he said.
‘So any time the Nurofen kicked in and I started to feel a little bit better, I was like yeah let’s do something, let’s skip, let’s shadow box, let’s do something.
‘Because I was in isolation, obviously I couldn’t leave the house, I was just like at least I am doing something.
‘In the long run it probably kicked my arse more.’
Culibao celebrates after defeating Shayilan Nuerdanbieke of China in their featherweight UFC bout in 2021
During the Covid layoff, Culibao did get one unique experience – training with Hollwood star Idris Elba. He revealed to Daily Mail Australia why the movie star chose him as a sparring partner.
‘My coach was obviously running a PT for him and he wanted Idris to have a training partner that was not going to be a d***head and hurt him.
‘You get guys with big egos and trying to prove a point, especially when you get a chance to train with a superstar.
‘[Fighters want to] puff their chest out and I’m not that sort of person – and I’m a lot smaller than him.
‘For a person that doesn’t do too much training I rate him as a very physical, big dude. He knows how to throw his weight around.’