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UFC St. Louis — Carlos Ulberg’s ‘step up’ arrives with big rewards on offer

Written by on May 12, 2024

New Zealand’s Carlos Ulberg will look to continue his rise up the UFC’s light heavyweight rankings this weekend when he fights Alonzo Menifield — an opponent he believes can bring him full circle to a berth at what the Kiwi says is the trans-Tasman “home ground” later this year.

Ulberg and Menifield will compete at UFC Fight Night St Louis, though it is a spot on the August 305 card in Perth the Kiwi truly craves.

The West Australian capital is also where Ulberg first plotted a course towards a date with the now 11th-ranked light heavyweight after Menifield shared a majority draw result with Australian Jimmy Crute at UFC 284.

“I’ve definitely been keeping a close eye on Menifield now. He’s been someone that I’ve known of for a while now, I’ve seen him in the flesh, I congratulated him when he fought [Jimmy] Crute in Perth, and I knew eventually we would face each other,” Ulberg told ESPN.

“So we’ve been keeping an eye on each other. All it is just me getting my work in, the same formula, I just come in and get the work in, keep fit, do what I need to do, learn different techniques when and wherever I can, and then when we finally got the okay to fight Menifield and we finally put some strategy together.”

Menifield later defeated Crute via submission in the pair’s rematch midway through 2023, Ulberg praising the American’s “fortitude” to stay with the Australian and eventually have his arm raised.

But that’s as far as the good will towards his opponent goes, with Ulberg buoyed by his own recent performances, a run which now stands at five straight wins and has him on the cusp of a top-15 ranking himself.

Ulberg is particularly proud of his most recent victory — a rear-naked choke submission over Da Woon Jung in Sydney last September — because he had to go deep into the third round to get it, in stark contrast to his three previous wins.

“Definitely, it was definitely a fight where I didn’t want to force a finish in the first round, I’m glad that it went to the third round,” Ulberg replied when asked whether that result was more satisfying than his other recent victories.

“And I was expecting to go to the third round because I knew that the opponent was very durable, and in his previous fights he’d had a very durable approach, he can take a punch and could also deliver a punch, so I was expecting that. But to get the win the way that I did, it certainly builds a bit of confidence.”

While Ulberg is now more than three years into his UFC career, the 33-year-old says he still feels like a newbie in mixed martial arts. He says he is confident in his groundwork and is wary of getting into an extended stand-up exchange with Menifield because of the American’s range and power.

This fight, then, has a seminal feel for Ulberg, the Kiwi recognizing the step up he needs to take to continue his climb and the doors that will open up if he is successful on Saturday night [ET].

“100 percent, the top 15 is definitely where you want to be,” Ulberg said. “And like I said, you’ve got some guys who’ve been there for a long time now and they’ve been fighting each other, and that’s at that high level now, so it’s definitely a step up for me and a big challenge that I’m willing to go for. I’ve prepared myself for this moment.

The big reward — if offered — would be the chance to sample one of the great atmospheres in the UFC, potentially on the main card of what is likely to be a middleweight title showdown between Dricus du Plessis and Ulberg’s City Kickboxing teammate Israel Adesanya.

“I’d definitely love to fight in Perth, I call it the home ground for New Zealand and Australia; when it comes to New Zealand and Australia we’re a team anyway. So I definitely want to go back and fight there.”

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