The year got off to a bad start for Leandro Issa when he was defeated in his UFC debut back in January, but the Brazilian is looking to finish 2014 on a high with a second successive Octagon win when he takes on Yuta Sasaki in his native Brazil on Saturday.
Issa has been based in Singapore since 2009, but will be returning to his home state of Sao Paulo to face Sasaki at UFC Fight Night 58. It’s a big opportunity for the Brazilian and one he is determined to seize with both hands.
“I have been training very hard at Evolve MMA for this fight and I want to show everyone in my home how much I have improved since I moved to Singapore and started working with all the world champion trainers there,” he said.
It’s been a long time since Issa last lived in Sao Paulo and he spent time as a resident in Rio de Janeiro and San Fransisco before making the move to Singapore.
For beating Jumabieke Tuerxun in his last fight, the 31-year-old received $100,000 worth of bonuses and, as he prepares to fight in Brazil for the first time since 2008, he reflects on how his life has been turned around in the intervening years.
“When I first moved to Rio de Janeiro to train BJJ, I did not have enough money to take care of my son and I thought about quitting to get a normal job, but fortunately my family supported me and encouraged me to follow my dream. That period in my life made me stronger both mentally and physically and gave me the determination to succeed as a fighter.”
It’s been a very successful year for the former ONE FC title contender in financial terms but he still feels he has a point to prove to UFC matchmakers.
“In Brazil every fighter wants to get in the UFC, it has always been a dream of mine, but now that I am here I have to show that I belong. I was happy with my last performance, but I need to win again so that people see I deserve to be a UFC fighter.”
The once beaten Sasaki is riding an eight-fight win streak, but Issa feels that he has more tools to win than the highly rated Japanese bantamweight.
“Everyone knows I am a BJJ guy, but I train every day in Muay Thai at Evolve MMA and for two years now I have been training my wrestling with Heath Sims, who will be in my corner in Brazil. I work every day with wrestling coaches from America, Muay Thai and boxing coaches from Thailand, and some very high level BJJ guys from Brazil, so I am improving in every area of my game.”
Issa flew out to Brazil ten days before UFC Fight Night 58 for the final stage of his preparations and returned to Ubatuba, the town where he took his first ever BJJ lesson as a boy and the place he left behind to pursue his martial art’s dream.
It’s a potentially emotional experience for a fighter who has had to endure plenty of ups and downs en route to winning gold at the Mundials, earning a black belt in BJJ, and securing a contract with the most prestigious MMA promotion on the planet, but Issa says the significance of competing in Sao Paulo again won’t sink in until after the fight.
“Now I am very focussed on Sasaki. I had a good training camp at Evolve MMA and my coaches have a good game plan for this fight, but this is a big moment for me and my career and it is very important that I win. After the fight, I can relax and see my family and friends and enjoy Christmas, but first I must defeat Sasaki.”
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