The name of Anthony Leone is not one which would have come up in many conversations about the top bantamweight contenders before last Friday. That all changed when the 25 year old scored a surprise win over Bellator Season One winner Zach Makovsky.
Makovsky was knocking on the door of the division's top ten and by claiming a third consecutive win at his expense Leone has surely leapfrogged him. What makes the Bellator 83 victory particularly satisfying for the New York native is that it was completely unexpected with some oddsmakers having him as a +400 underdog.
Most people had Leone winning all three rounds but he had a nervous wait when the scorecards were announced with one of the judges giving the fight to Makovsky, something he puts down to the influence of the hometown crowd.
"I felt I won the fight but when you leave it up to the judges, anything can happen. I was surprised a little when one of the judges gave him the fight but it was his hometown and the same thing happened with my last fight (against Claudio Ledesma) who was from the area and though I clearly won two rounds, maybe three, but it was a split decision. Sometimes judges are a little biased and I think that was the case for both fights."
Despite the dissenting voice of one of the judges, justice was done on both occasions and with the back-to-back wins, Leone has established himself as one of Bellator's top bantamweights. It is a far cry from the situation he was in 18 months ago as he had lost two fights out of two since signing for Bellator, as well as suffering losses under the banner of both Strikeforce and the WEC, all of which amounted to a four fight losing streak.
"I began not training properly and took three of those fights on two weeks notice and they were all up at 145 pounds. I learned a lot through that experience and it made me into the fighter I am today. There was never the thought of quitting but I did question why I was doing this sport and figured out a lot about myself which I probably never would have done if those losses hadn't happened."
Leone burst onto the scene by winning his first eight fights but then his career stuttered slightly when he started to compete for the more prominent promotions. He got things back on track by breaking the four fight losing streak and going 3-1 in his next four, culminating in the win over the well regarded Ledesma at Bellator 74, but few gave him any hope of overcoming Makovsky.
The holder of an outstanding 6-1 record inside the Bellator cage, Makovsky's only recent loss had been to reigning bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas and Leone was widely expected to lose, but he said he paid no attention to either the pre fight predictions or the opinions of the usually reliable oddsmakers.
"I didn't care about that at all. I knew I could beat Zach and that's all I cared about."
Leone's younger brother Andrew is also an up-and-coming fighter who competes in the flyweight division and holds a 5-2 record with notable wins over a couple of Koreans in ONE FC Bantamweight champion Soo Chul Kim and Kyung Ho Kang who recently signed for the UFC.
Both have spent time training together at Phuket Top Team in Thailand where Andrew is permanently based but Anthony refused to comment when asked whether he thought he was a better fighter than his brother. What he would say is that he is likely to be back in action sooner rather than later and is looking to land his third consecutive Bellator win.
'I'm not sure when I will be fighting next, or where, but Bellator might want me back very soon so I will have to wait and see."
Anthony Leone would like to thank GRIPS, Phuket Top Team and Bombsquad.