Mixed Martial Arts could be considered to be in its infancy in South Africa. While the sport has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years, there’s still some groundwork to be made with regards to exposure, sponsorships, and providing it’s athletes with the backing they need. That said, there’s no shortage of talent in South Africa and Garreth “Soldier Boy” McLellan is evidence of that.
McLellan, originally a talented rugby player, got involved in Mixed Martial arts as a means of improving his fitness and realised his passion for the sport. Since then he has fought his way to the very top of Mixed Martial Arts in South Africa and has since moved onto the international stage, competing in the coveted Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the United States.
The two-time EFC Africa champion and EFC worldwide champion made his transition into the UFC, losing his opening fight but coming back hard with the biggest win of his MMA career, when he knocked out Bubba Bush in the opening bout of UFC Fight Night 76 – running the 33-year-old’s professional MMA record to 13-3 – a feat McLellan is not taking for granted.
“It’s a dream come true and extremely humbling to reach the level it brings,” said McLellan upon joining the prestigious UFC. “I’m grateful for the opportunity and excited to show my ability,”
But while McLellan is clearly a ruthless and clinical fighting machine, he, like most star athletes, has another side to him.
McLellan is a family man – a man who, despite his fame and accomplishments, holds onto his humble beginnings in Vereeniging.
“I am inspired by life, my family and my friends myself. It’s all what you make of it. If you find inspiration in everyday life, you can’t fail. You don’t need somebody to tell you how great you are, you just need to believe it.”
These sentiments of strength are not only Soldier Boy’s philosophy in the octagon, but also in everyday life.
“I keep pushing myself further and harder everyday. The days where I wanted to quit, I dig deeper and push harder. Success is not easy. It’s pain and fear and tears that you wipe away, push through and conquer to be where you need to be.”
— UFC (@ufc) October 24, 2015
McLellan is grateful for his backing and team of sponsors who have supported him before and during his rise to greatness. One of which is Legacy Lifestyle, one of Africa’s largest rewards programmes, who have already partnered with the likes of Willie Le Roux, Handre Pollard, and Anaso Jabodwana, and McLellan was a natural talent which Legacy Lifestyle acknowledged from the beginning.
“When we met Garreth, we not only realised the potential he has to disrupt the international MMA scene, we also noticed his professionalism outside of the ring,” said Legacy Lifestyle. “His understated style and personality, combined with his humble perspective of the sport resonated with our brand, making him one of our favourite people to put time and resource behind.”
While McLellan does most of his talking with his actions in the cage, the Karate black belt holder also does have some pearls of wisdom for those aspiring to achieve great things.
“Never take anything for granted. You have to stay grounded. Never believe you are bigger than the game, because you are not. Surround yourself with good people, those who want the best for you. Always have fun when doing what you love.”
And McLellan is doing just that, and knows, despite his UFC historic win, the success means more to his home nation more than it does himself.
“For South Africa, it’s the first official win by a homegrown South African; Trevor Prangley was living in America (when he won his first UFC fight in 2004), but he was South African. But this is the first win for a South African boy that’s fighting out of South Africa. So it’s a massive success for the country, and they’re going absolutely crazy at home.”
You’re not wrong about that, Garreth.