Andrew Leone’s career has had its ups and downs. In the last year, he has gone from the high of defeating Filipino flyweight Geje Eustaquio on his home soil in Manila to the low of being forced to pull out of a headlining bout with Shinichi Kojima in Jakarta, but the American is hoping to get 2014 off to the perfect start.
Having extended his contract with Asia’s biggest MMA promotion, Leone is set to feature at the ONE FC: War of Nations card in Kuala Lumpur next month, when he finally gets to face Kojima in the match-up that had initially been scheduled for last September.
The American will be putting his 6-2 record on the line against 13-5-5 Kojima, who is almost 10 years his senior, and believes he knows what it takes to beat the Japanese veteran.
“All his fights he lost he got put on his back and/or his back was taken. We have some really high level wrestlers at Phuket Top Team at the moment including Jumbieke Tuerxan and Donny Carlos Claus along with my brother. We’re gonna be looking to keep it standing, but if the takedown is there then I’ll try my best to take him down,” he told MMAWeekly.com.
Leone was a two-time All-State wrestling champion in New York and has won numerous grappling and BJJ competitions since moving to Asia, but he does not believe that Kojima necessarily has an edge over him in striking terms.
“He’s talented, but I don’t think he outmatches me in striking. It’s gonna be a great fight and I’m excited to see who comes out and performs,” he said.
His older brother Anthony was in Phuket helping him prepare, but had to rush back to the U.S. when the call came to face reigning Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas in a bantamweight title match. That fight is set for March 7, exactly a week before ONE FC: War of Nations.
Leone has his sights firmly set on the ONE FC flyweight title, but believes his brother will beat him to it by becoming the first member of the family to win a belt at Bellator 111.
“I feel the same way about this fight as I felt before he fought the former champ (Zach Makovsky) in Bellator; I had a great feeling and he came out on top. Anthony is one of the best in the world at 61kg (135 pounds), he’ll be flying back the following day to help me with my last day or two in training before we fly to Kuala Lumpur,” he said.
Leone could easily have joined his older brother at Bellator as, with his ONE FC contract coming to an end, he had an offer on the table from the American promotion, but decided his fighting future lay in Asia.
“I talked with my brother and we felt like this was where I should be right now. ONE FC has treated me very well, it is the biggest promotion in Asia, and when they sign huge names like Ben Askren, it creates a lot of awareness in the western world. I’m very happy to be here,” he said.
The knee injury which caused Leone to pull out of his fight with Kojima last year was serious, but the American says he has fully recovered and fitness is not an issue ahead of ONE FC: War of Nations.
“I had two tears in my knee: a grade two tear in my PCL and a grade two tear in my ACL. An operation is only required if you fully blow out, which would be a grade three tear; rest and rehab was the only thing that I could do, but I feel fine now,” he said.
Adriano Moraes and Yasuhiro Urushitani are facing off on the same card in Kuala Lumpur and there is a widespread expectation that, with four of ONE FC’s top flyweights in action, the two winners will face off for the inaugural 125-pound title.
Leone says he doesn’t know for sure if his fight with Kojima is a title eliminator, but believes it would make sense for him to be awarded a title shot if he can beat the experienced Japanese fighter.
“The plan is to get past Kojima and then fight for the belt. It’s been a tournament in my eyes the whole time since Geje (Eustaquio), that was the quarterfinals.”
Eustaquio is coming off a win, Rey Docyogen is set to return after taking time off to finish his architectural examinations, and Yusup Saadulaev is considering a drop down to flyweight, while Kentaro Watanabe will be looking to get straight in the title mix when he makes his ONE FC debut.
It’s a competitive division, but if Leone can overcome Kojima at ONE FC: War of Nations, he will be a strong contender for a shot at the inaugural title and the chance to become the first American to win a belt under the banner of Asia’s biggest MMA promotion.
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