Brazil may be the birthplace of BJJ, but even fighters from the South American MMA stronghold are well aware of the vital role that Asia has played in the sport’s history and development.
Bruno Pucci grew up watching his Brazilian heroes do battle in Japan during the days of the now defunct Pride FC and, as he prepares to fight in Asia for the very first time, says the continent has always had its allure.
“I have been following some of the Asian MMA fights since I was a teenager watching Pride FC,” Pucci told the Post.
“There are a lot of shows in Brazil and most of the fight cards mainly consist of Brazilian fighters, but in Asia the shows are more varied as the fighters are from different countries. You can see the different styles here, and it is good for the growth of the sport,”
The 23-year-old No-Gi grappling world champion, who holds a black belt in BJJ, is effectively embarking on a crash course in Asian MMA as he is slated to face unbeaten Pakistani featherweight Bashir Ahamd at ONE FC: Champions & Warriors on September 13.
The two fighters, who both boast perfect professional records of 2-0, will do battle at the 15,000-seater Istora Senayan Stadium in Jakarta, with Pucci expecting a completely different challenge from the type he has typically been facing in his native Brazil.
“Both of the previous opponents I fought were from BJJ backgrounds, so I could use my ground game. In this fight we’ve got different fighting styles because Bashir has more striking skills, so probably the fight will be quite different from my previous fights,” he said.
Pucci’s presence in Asia is entirely due to Evolve MMA owner Chatri Sityodtong, who was sufficiently impressed by the young Brazilian’s exploits in becoming a multiple time world grappling champion, as well as the promising start he had made to his professional MMA career, to invite him to join the fight team he founded in Singapore.
Evolve MMA has a reputation as being the best facility of its type in the region and Pucci feels fortunate to have been given the opportunity to continue his development as a mixed martial artist in such a prestigious environment, “I feel lucky to get the offer from Evolve MMA last year after my graduation from university and it was not a difficult decision to move to Singapore and join Evolve considering the world class facility, famous world champions in different disciplines of martial arts, as well as the opportunity to fight in big shows like ONE FC,” said Pucci.
The ONE FC featherweight division is highly competitive and is home to top fighters such as Eric Kelly, Bae Young Kwon and Honorio Banario, as well as reigning champion Koji Oishi, who won the title belt in front of 20,000 fans in Manila in May.
Pucci is taking on another up-and-coming star in Ahmad, and hopes he can get himself into contention for a shot at one of the established 145lbs (65.8kg) stars by making a big impression on his ONE FC debut,
“I have watched these guys fight in previous ONE FC events. There are some tough fighters from Japan, Philippines and Korea and I respect their skills, hard work and big hearts, but I am not intimidated by them.
“They inspire me to train harder and improve more because I know my skill, dedication and heart are not less than theirs. When I face one of them, I will be very confident,” he added.
Oishi, the reigning featherweight champion, is over a decade older than the Brazilian and has more than 20 times as many fights but, despite this enormous gulf in terms of experience, Pucci is already sizing him up as a potential future opponent,
“I always believe in myself and if I get the opportunity to contend for the title shot with Oishi, I’d do my specific training camp to be the new champion. Since Oishi’s known to be a wrestler, I’d probably pay more attention to refine my takedowns,” he said.
Pucci’s first fight for ONE FC is on a completely different scale to anything he has ever experienced in Brazil. It will be screened live all over Asia by Star Sports and shown by numerous other broadcasters worldwide, including in South America.
He will also be taking on an accomplished opponent who has already registered a hard fought decision win under the ONE FC banner and Pucci is well aware of what will be at stake in Jakarta.
“Without doubt it is the most important fight for me since I started MMA because it’s my first time fighting in Asia in such a big show and I hope to make a good impression and make all my family, friends and students proud,” he said.