When Joshua Culibao was given 10 days’ notice to jump on a maiden UFC fight card against a guy with 20 pet tarantulas, he could have easily declined.
Instead, the Sydney fighter did a Spider-Man and jumped into the challenge. He was stopped in the second round by American Jalin Turner, nicknamed Tarantula for his unique collection, and that may have been the end of his fight journey.
But the courage Culibao showed to turn up when others would not, landed him not only a UFC contract, but now the opportunity to feature on his first show in Australia under the brand when they hold UFC 284 in Perth next February.
“My close friend Jamie Mullarkey was scheduled to fight in Auckland (in 2020 against Turner), and he messaged me and told me he’d hurt his neck and he would need someone to step in,” said featherweight Culibao.
“I didn’t think I was going to get the call-up because it’s not my weight division, it’s a size up, and he just told me ‘Put your hand up, you never know’.
“It was on 10 days’ notice, I ended up squeezing in and getting my foot in the door with a short notice call-up.
“During that time I didn’t know if I was going to be seen by the UFC or picked up, this opportunity came about, and it’s like having a winning lottery ticket, you’re going to hand it in.
“It’s stupid not to. I would’ve fought at heavyweight if I had to, to get my foot in the door. It was a lifelong dream to get to the UFC, I’d been working so long, working so hard to get the call-up. Imagine turning down a call-up from the UFC, I can’t think of anything worse.”
Since that defeat, Culibao has drawn with Charles Jourdain in Abu Dhabi, and then beaten Shayilan Nuerdanbieke in Las Vegas and Seung Woo Choi in Singapore to earn a slot on a stacked Perth show featuring several Australians.
Culibao will fight Armenia’s Melsik Baghdasaryan, who is on a seven-fight win streak, but while the likes of Alex Volkanovski and Robert Whittaker will headline the card, he plans to create the highlight reel moment.
“I treat every guy like he is the second coming of Jesus Christ, like he can walk on water and punch through walls,” said Culibao, 28.
“I give my 110 per cent in training and I don’t look past the guy I’m fighting, I treat every fight like it’s my last, and I feel that’s what really separates me from a lot of fighters.
“I know my style, and I know the guy I’m fighting’s style, is going to steal the show. I know for a fact we’re going to put on one hell of a fight and I see myself knocking this guy out and the Australian crowd losing it.”
Also at UFC 284, Aussie featherweight Jack Jenkins will fight Don Shainis, and local heavyweight Justin Tafa takes on Parker Porter.
Culibao, who lives in Botany and trains at Bondi’s Igor MMA gym, has lofty ambition.
“At the beginning I used to fight to prove people wrong,” he said.
“Now I fight for my fans, my family, my future family, for the gym I train out of, for my last name, I fight for the Australians, the Filipinos.
“But probably the biggest one now, is I fight to prove to myself that if I really am committed to this, I know I can be one of the best to do this.”
Originally published as UFC 284: Joshua Culibao to steal highlight off headliners Volkanovski and Whittaker