Andrew Leone’s ONE Championship career has had its ups and downs. He’s never lost a fight for the promotion, but he had problems making the flyweight limit and had to pull out of a title fight in that division due to a back problem that nearly paralyzed him.
That was last year and Leone is now fully recovered and ready to challenge Bibiano Fernandes for the bantamweight title at ONE: Kings & Conquerors. But it has been a long, hard road for the American who thought at one stage his career might be over.
“I’ve a couple of herniated disks and basically at one point a whole bunch of stuff happened and my legs went numb. And that was only like two weeks before the fight. I have my girlfriend holding out my legs and I was like ‘all right this is it.’ I thought I was going to have to retire; I thought it was over.”
Leone has won eight out of his last nine fights and had a ONE Championship title fight booked. It would have been a terrible time to have to hang up the gloves and the 27-year-old was determined to get back in the cage.
“I didn’t train on the mats, I didn’t have any explosiveness. The motivation kind of went out the window, so I kind of turned my focus onto yoga. I was doing yoga three to four times a week for almost eight months and I got my body back. I’m not waking up in pain.”
This unconventional recovery strategy paid dividends and Leone’s reward is an opportunity to fight one of his heroes in the Cotai Arena on Saturday night.
“(Bibiano) has been the champ since I was little, so it’s exciting to go there and take it from him. I have fought some other guy who I was a real big fan of, BJ Kojima, and he was No. 1 in the world for four years. That was a great opportunity to fight one of the legends and someone who I looked up to when I was younger.”
Leone is well aware of the challenge which awaits him in Macau, as he attempts to become the first fighter to defeat Fernandes since 2010.
“I wouldn’t say he’s got too many weakness. He hasn’t lost in a while. Maybe he is getting older, but he is the man. It’s Bibiano.”
Last time out, Fernandes fought to a split decision win over a hungry young contender. The result might have slightly dented his aura of invincibility and Leone is adamant he has what it takes to dethrone the champion.
“I believe in my techniques. I believe in my training. I believe in my training partners. I believe in my ability to win.”
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