Andrew Leone’s path to the pinnacle of Asian MMA has taken the New York native from Singapore to Taiwan to South Korea, to Malaysia to the Philippines, and he is currently getting ready for the biggest fight of his career against Shinichi Kojima in Indonesia on September 13.
ONE FC: Kojima v Leone is taking place at the 15,000-seater Istora Senayan Stadium in Jakarta.
Having proven himself on the Asian circuit, the American now finds his name on top of a card put on by the biggest promotion on the continent.
“It’s awesome getting the opportunity to headline this ONE FC show in Indonesia. I’m very grateful for the opportunity and I plan to make the most out of it,” said Leone.
The 23-year-old booked his September spot courtesy of a unanimous decision win over Geje Eustaquio in front of 20,000 fans in Manila in May at ONE FC: Rise to Power. That victory took his overall MMA record to 6-2 and established him as an immediate contender for the flyweight title.
Leone is going to need to win at least one more fight before he can think about a title shot, and the Jakarta bout will be the toughest of his career against an opponent who has over a decade of cage-fighting experience under his belt and knows what it takes to be a champion.
Kojima made his professional debut in 2003, when Leone was just 13 years old, and has gone on to face some of the best fighters in the world. His record currently stands at 13-5-5 and he is a former shooto bantamweight champion, a belt he held for four years and only gave up after a cruciate ligament injury to his right knee rendered him unable to defend it.
Leone knows he is taking a big step up in competition and has nothing but respect for the Japanese veteran he will be standing opposite on September 13.
“Kojima is an animal. He’s been around for a while and I think he was ranked number one in the world a couple of years ago,” said the American. “He’s quick, he’s strong, he’s got a weird style but I wanted this fight and now I’m fortunate enough to get it in the main event so I’m real excited.”
Leone’s older brother Anthony is also a successful mixed martial artist who competes for Bellator in the bantamweight division. The two train together at Phuket Top Team and both have fights booked in the coming weeks.
Anthony is getting ready for the 18th fight of his career against Frank Baca at Bellator 97 in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Andrew says that helping his brother get ready for that July 31 bout has effectively served as the first stage of his own preparation for the ONE FC event.
“I’m getting Anthony ready. We are both in Phuket at the moment but in a few days he’s flying back for the fight. It’s going to be a good fight and hopefully he’s going to do wonders in this tournament and then fight for the belt next year,” he said.
Leone was a high school wrestling champion who dropped out of college in order to pursue his professional MMA dreams in Asia. With a headlining slot for one of the biggest promotions in the world next on the agenda it would be fair to say that the decision to abandon academic life to focus on an athletic career has paid off emphatically.
He is also an avid surfer which makes him extremely suited to Phuket and he already has plans in place that will allow him to take advantage of the trip to Indonesia to catch some waves.
“Once the fight is over we are going surfing in Bali for a week. To get to compete in an international event against an international opponent – some people don’t get that opportunity for a while but I’ve been doing it for the past couple of years – it’s awesome.”
The beaches of Bali might beckon, but first there is hard work to be done as Leone prepares for the most important fight of his life. A win over Kojima would establish him as one of the best flyweights in the world and, with main event status at the biggest cage-fight night Indonesia has ever seen, the stage is set for the American to make a name for himself this September.