Believe it or not, there was a time when Josh “Kuya” Culibao weighed around 220 pounds. And that’s part of the reason he ended up in the UFC, fighting the toughest opponents on the planet.
“I was 15 years old, playing footy and wanted to lose weight in the off-season,” recalls the now 145er. “I was a big kid, so I decided to take up BJJ. I thought I’d muscle some of the average-sized adults around. I was wrong! I ended up getting submitted countless times and that got me addicted to the sport. I wondered how good I could become if I learned all of those skills.”
The answer is very good. The Sydney fighter entered the UFC boasting an 8-0 record, with five wins coming by finish. His most recent appearance in the Octagon saw him defeat China’s Shayilan Nuerdanbieke by decision.
“Soon after I took up BJJ, I started doing MMA and the extra weight just fell off,” says the 28-year-old. “I wasn’t even dieting, I just loved doing the sport. After about a year of training hard, my coach asked if I wanted to have a fight. After that, I was even more hooked on MMA.”
Culibao began watching old UFC tapes of Royce Gracie and later became a fan of Georges St-Pierre, Matt Hughes and BJ Penn. The more he watched, the more he liked it. He also believed he might have a future in the sport himself.
“It’s weird to say, but I always felt like I could make it in MMA,” says Culibao. “I knew I had a gift to be better than average. It must have been pretty surreal for my family watching on, but I knew if I stayed committed, I would make it.”
MMA didn’t only teach Culibao about how to slip punches or defend takedowns, either. It provided other lessons he’s applied to his life more broadly; lessons that haven’t just made him a skilled fighter, but also a stronger person.
“Martial arts give you a moral code of honor, respect and loyalty. They also give you a good mindset. When things get hard in the gym, you push through it – just like in life. Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but you’ve gotta keep trying. Losing is part of life, too. We don’t always see it, but other people are constantly fighting their own battles. Everybody loses sometimes, but martial arts teach you to persevere.”
Home for Culibao is Igor MMA in Sydney, though he occasionally travels to other gyms to sharpen his tools or help fellow fighters with their camps. One of those he will always make time for is UFC featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski.
“Volk is the champ of my division. He’s the gold standard, what we all strive to be.I don’t just mean as a fighter – as a person as well. I think he’s a really good bloke in and out of the cage.
“It’s really great seeing the talent coming out of Australia now. There are a lot more high-level fighters here to train with.”
Culibao stresses he isn’t one of those folks who get so caught up with their own training that they don’t pay much attention to the rest of the UFC. He remains a huge fan and catches as much of it as he can.
“I still love watching it. That’s why it’s so crazy for me to be competing, too. When I go to the events and see some of the top fighters, I’m almost fan-girling over them. (Laughs) Being a fan is how I got into all of this. You watch these fighters, and you look up to them – and now I’m here.”
Culibao gets his chance to rack up a second win in the promotion at UFC 275 when he faces South Korea’s SeungWoo Choi. He admits it’s a tough challenge, but sees himself having his hand raised whichever direction the fight takes.
“He’s a very game opponent. He’s a tall, strong fighter and he’s dangerous. I believe he’s going to push me to a new level. If he comes out super aggressive, I think I’ll catch him. It’ll be an early night. If he comes out more calculated, then it might go to a decision. Either way, I don’t see myself not winning.
“As far as my mental preparation, it’s business as usual. I try not to worry too much. This sport is stressful enough just knowing there’s a guy on the other side of the world preparing to fight you!”
UFC 275: Teixeira vs Procházka took place on Saturday, June 11, 2022, live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!