Josh McCulloch has an easy smile and a wide-eyed optimism about what awaits him when he soon segues from childhood to adulthood. He’s energised by the boundless possibilities. You can feel it.
At age 17, the Tamworth High School student has found himself in the muay thai fast lane, announcing himself in the senior ranks with a series of impressive victories that have earned Aladdin the Baby Faced Assassin, as he is known, a shot at his first senior state title.
On April 7 in Toukley, McCulloch will combat Nathan Jones for the 58kg state crown. It will follow McCulloch’s points win over Angus Paterson in Cleveland, Queensland, last month, where he fought using elbows for the first time and won fight of the night, and a points victory last weekend against 32-year-old Danny Roberts at the Doyalson Wyee RSL.
The interval between those fights was the shortest of McCulloch’s career, and Roberts his oldest opponent. He has won four straight fights for a total of nine wins, against two losses and a draw.
“I’m feeling really strong,” he said, adding that he can feel himself getting better each fight, and he is “always excited to get in the ring”. “I’m confident mentally, but I’m not cocky,” he said.
His two losses may have helped keep him level-headed as the glare of the spotlight has increased in line with his ascent. One of those losses was for the 58kg junior state title last year.
He is excited about the chance to, in a way, atone for that loss. And he sees himself fighting for a living: “If it [fighting professionally] did arise, I'd take it.”
McCulloch envisions fighting in Bangkok against a top Thai. In Thailand, it is not unusual for someone McCulloch’s age to have fought hundreds of times, having served as his family’s main breadwinner for years.
He will travel to Thailand for the first time in June, for a two-week training camp organised by his trainer, Scott Chaffey.
The more McCulloch absorbs of the ancient sport, the more he loves and respects it. While some people recoil at its brutality, he marvels at its traditions. “Just fighting in Thailand is a big dream for me,” he said.
Chaffey, who trains McCulloch at Chaffeys Black Belt Academy, acknowledged his charge’s “hot streak”. He is unsurprised by the teen’s rapid progress: “Josh is here morning and night. He’s always first one in the door, last person to leave. [He] always trains 100 per cent. His hard work’s finally paying off.”