Surfing enthusiast American Andrew Leone plans on making a splash on his return to action at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR in Manila on Friday.
Bali-based Leone takes on Filipino knockout specialist Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon in the main event in the Philippines, and with the possibility of a world title shot awaiting the winner, it’s a pivotal bout for both men.
Leone has been working hard in his training camp at his home gym of Bali MMA, which he manages with his brother Anthony, and he says everything has come together nicely ahead of this weekend’s crucial bout.
“Training is going great,” he told ONE Championship.
“Camp is like a myth — you focus on things when it comes down to more competition time, but always, somebody has a bout coming up. We’ve got a bunch of coaches here.
“You’ve got Mike [Ikilei] running the striking program, you’ve got Donnie [Carlo-Claus] running the mixed martial arts program, and you got a bunch of coaches telling you what to do. [There is] lots of leadership going on that is spread out.”
The bout represents the first time Leone is returning to action since his title bout defeat to reigning ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes, and he says he’s immersed himself in his training ever since that loss.
“I have been working hard since then,” he said.
“I am looking forward to this opportunity against Kevin Belingon. The winner gets the rematch [with Bibiano Fernandes], and I am excited for this opportunity that ONE Championship has provided, making us the headliner on arguably the biggest card in ONE history.
“We are going to go out there and put on a good performance for the Filipino fans, and for the world.”
Leone faces Belingon, who is also looking to force his way back into world title contention after his own loss to Fernandes earlier in his career.
Leone says he’s well aware of the Filipino’s credentials, but says his grappling skills are the perfect antidote to “The Silencer’s” striking arsenal.
“Belingon is a tough guy, knocking everybody out,” he said.
“I look forward to going in there, and strangling him. ONE Championship has given me tough matches since I signed with them, and I would not have it any other way.
“My first match was against Geje Eustaquio. My second match was against the number one guy in the world for years, Shinichi Kojima, somebody I looked up to when I was younger when he was competing in Shooto. He was the champion in my weight [class]. I got that win over him.
“Then, I faced Koetsu Okazaki, another Shooto champ, and another guy who has a lot of wins over top bantamweights in ONE. So Belingon is another tough opponent, and I am looking forward to our match.”
Since moving out to Bali, Leone has been growing his gym and, in turn, growing the sport of martial arts over in Indonesia.
“I think since Steve [Suryadinata], Donnie, my brother, and I came to Indonesia, that was always the goal,” he explained.
“We wanted to help elevate the sport here, and bring Indonesian athletes to the world.
“ONE Championship has provided an amazing opportunity to create heroes. We are really happy to be part of that. To showcase a lot of these guys’ skills on this platform, that is amazing. I could not ask for anything more.
“I have almost been out here 10 years now. I came out here in 2009. I go back home twice a year, so I see my family and people I need to see for Christmas, and I will go home in August. But we’ve got everything we need out here.
“I think Bali is a level up in a lot of ways than training in the U.S. There is a certain kind of focus going on over here that everyone has. We are away from the outside world.
“You are not worried about some of the problems you [normally] would be when you are in your regular town, or in your regular life. You are isolated with your team, who all have the same goal.”
Now, with his roots firmly set in Bali and with the gym going from strength to strength, Leone is determined to continue growing Bali MMA and its reputation as one of the best emerging gyms in the region.
“There is a lot we see for Bali MMA, long term,” he explained.
“We’ve got a lot of projects going on right now. With time, we will start talking about those things, but we are really excited about the future.
“It is really just the beginning. We are only at the three and a half year mark of being open, and we are just starting to hit a stride and get our momentum.
“Our heads are in the clouds right now, and that is exactly where they need to be. We are really excited about the next few years.”
Hanging a world championship belt on the gym wall would certainly be a major attraction for the gym, and Leone stands as little as two wins away from that goal.
The next obstacle is Belingon on 20 April.