Leandro Issa picked up a couple of bonuses during his UFC career and could easily have come away with more. The BJJ black belt scored two highlight reel submission wins, both of them at the expense of champions from Asian promotions, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.
Instead Issa finds himself back with ONE Championship. It is four years since his last fight for the promotion, a hard fought decision win over Yusup Saadulaev, and he will be looking to work his way back up the bantamweight rankings he once headed.
In total, Issa fought five times for the UFC in four different countries. He got to compete in his native Brazil for the first time in seven years and is grateful for the experience.
“I enjoyed my time fighting in the UFC. I grew up watching the UFC, and ever since I started training BJJ I had a dream of fighting in the UFC, so it was a good experience.”
The Brazilian is set to face Toni Tauru in Macau on Saturday night at ONE: Kings & Conquerors.
“It’s great to be back with ONE, fighting in the biggest show in Asia alongside my Evolve teammates. I have been living in Singapore for more than eight years now, so I have a lot of support here in Asia and I’m excited for my fight.”
After making an early impression with two submission wins in his first three UFC fights, Issa is hoping for a similar statement on Saturday.
“My next fight is very important for me. It is my first fight back with ONE, so I’m eager to get off to the best start. I’ve been training really hard and I’m excited to put on a good show for the fans.”
He’s going up against a former Cage Warriors bantamweight champion and has been watching some footage of the Finnish fighter.
“I’ve seen some of Toni’s fights. He likes to grapple and is a decent striker too. I have been training hard here at Evolve with all the different world champions we have, so I’m well prepared for this fight. It’s going to be a good fight.”
The fight was originally set to take place in Surabaya last week, but was moved to Macau when last week’s event was canceled, but Issa is completely unfazed by the seven-day delay.
“The date change didn’t affect me. I just have to wait one more week and watch my diet for one more week. But my weight is good, so there are no worries. I’m glad ONE were able to reschedule me to this Macau card.”
It has been described as ONE Championship’s best card of the year. For Issa, getting to fight in the famous Cotai Arena is an unexpected bonus.
“I’m very excited to be fighting in Macau, it’s an even better card than Surabaya. There are a lot of great fights and Macau is a nice place. I’m expecting a good crowd there. I’m really excited.”
The event is headlined by a bantamweight title bout. Bibiano Fernandes is, as always, a firm favorite to defend his belt, but Issa already has one eye on that title.
“This is my first fight back in ONE, so I’m fully focused on this fight. After that I’m going to take it step by step, but my goal is to be the champion.”
Once change in the coaching set-up at Evolve MMA since Issa’s last fight has seen Brian Ebersole being installed as the head coach. Issa’s been working with the American veteran and says fans can expect to see him try out some new tricks in Macau.
“It’s great to have Brian here as the head coach of the Evolve Fight Team. He is really experience with tons of MMA fights, so the insight and advice he can give is invaluable. His wrestling knowledge is amazing and I’ve learned a lot from him. This is my first fight with him as the head coach, so you will be seeing some new things in my game.”
Issa has won three fights out of four for ONE Championship so far, beating Soo Chul Kim, Mazakazu Imanari, and Saadulaev. The Brazilian believes there is still time to realize his title ambitions with the promotion and he will be looking to pick up where he left off with a victory at ONE: Kings & Conquerors.
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