Leandro Issa has beaten all comers in the ONE FC bantamweight division with the sole blemish on his recent record a heartbreaking rematch defeat to Soo Chul Kim in a fight that had the inaugural 135-pound title at stake.
That belt is now the property of the seemingly unbeatable Bibiano Fernandes, but Issa is desperate for another shot at it and after earning a decision over Yusup Saadulaev earlier this year, he will be looking for a second successive win when he takes on Koetsu Okazaki at ONE FC: Moment of Truth.
Okazaki went five rounds with Fernandes in his ONE FC debut and Issa would love nothing more than to go one better by actually finishing the former Shooto champion.
“Okazaki is a great fighter and I have a lot of respect for him. I will love to finish this fight and make a good show for the Filipino fans,” he said.
ONE FC: Moment of Truth is set for the SM Mall of Asia Arena on Dec. 6. It will be the promotion’s third event in Manila and the second in this brand new venue. Issa says he is particularly looking forward to fighting in the Philippines for the first time.
“Some of my Evolve MMA teammates went to the last ONE FC show in this venue and they said it was crazy with 20,000 people. I have fought for ONE FC in Singapore and Malaysia with around 10,000 fans, but everyone says the Filipino fans have a lot of passion for MMA and I hope I can put on a show they will remember,” he said.
Issa, who has been based at Evolve MMA in Singapore since 2009, recently celebrated his 30th birthday. It is an age at which fighters are often thought to have reached their peak, but he believes he still has plenty of potential to develop.
“I believe that there’s always room for improvement for anyone and everyone, and I always tell myself that no matter what it is I have to improve myself at least one percent everyday. I train alongside the very best Muay Thai world champions at Evolve MMA, such as Orono Wor Petchpun, Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn, and Attachai Fairtex, as well as champions in boxing, wrestling, BJJ and MMA, so there is always something new to learn,” he said.
He holds a black belt in BJJ, but it was Issa’s striking that made the difference in his latest win, which came at the expense of the recently resurgent Saadulaev. With victories over Masakazu Imanari and Soo Chul Kim also on his ONE FC resume, the Brazilian has been getting the better of some of the top fighters in Asia.
If he wants to win the belt though, he will need to beat the best 135-pounder currently competing on the continent, Bibiano Fernandes. First up for Fernandes is likely to be a meeting with Masakatsu Ueda, but if the champion overcomes the challenge posed by the Japanese veteran, Issa says he will be waiting in the wings.
“Ueda and Fernandes are both excellent fighters, so I’m sure that regardless of whoever wins that fight it will be a really good fight. Getting another bantamweight title shot is my dream, but I will leave that decision for Victor Cui to decide and at the moment my focus is only on my fight against Okazaki.”
With Kevin Belingon taking on unbeaten Spaniard David Aranda Santacana at ONE FC: Moment of Truth and undefeated Korean Dae Hwan Kim also making his promotional debut, the bantamweight division is stacking up and Issa, who has been with the organization since day one, will want to prove he still belongs at the top of it with an impressive win over Okazaki.
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