To anyone on the South East Asian mixed martial arts' (MMA) scene, Arnaud Lepont is a very familiar face. He has trained at countless camps throughout Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia before settling down at Muayfit in Kuala Lumpur at the start of the year.
His record stands at 7-1 and he is currently preparing for the biggest fight of his career to date against Krzystof Hajtalowicz at DARE Championship 2/12 next month.The Polish fighter has a perfect 2-0 record and has submitted two well-respected opponents.
The stakes are high because the winner will move into the semifinals of the DARE Welterweight Tournament and there is $120,000 in prize money on offer to the eventual winner. Hajtalowicz has been based in Thailand for several years, just like Lepont was, and fight fans there are well aware of his abilities which is why this is such an eagerly anticipated match up.
During the years he spent in Thailand, Lepont trained at multiple camps and is a popular figure who is known for his highly aggressive fighting style. Whereas Hajtalowicz didn't submit Wiktor Svensson until the second round of a real war in his DARE debut, Lepont stopped Jian Kai Chee in the opening minute of their fight
The charismatic French fighter took time out to answer questions about training and fighting in Asia and his forthcoming fight at DARE 2/12.
Your fight with Hajtalowicz was originally scheduled to take place in January but was postponed. How frustrating was that for you?
I have to be honest, it was really frustrating. You know, when DARE told me i would have to fight Cris for the first quarterfinal of the Million Dollar tournament I was pumped. I respect this guy, as a friend and as a fighter.
I trained myself like I have never done before in my all life. I pushed my body and made a lot of sacrifices, especially with my family. It's like working for an examination and then when the times comes around you are not able to show the world how good you are. Winning or losing, I don't care...but I want to put on a show that nobody will ever forget. So yes, it was frustrating. I though that I have done all this for nothing you know...
THE GAME vs KAI - DARE MMA - Bangkok, Thailand (via Darechampionship)
You've been preparing for this fight for over three months now, is having such a long training camp a bad thing or a good thing?
I think it's a bad thing because it's tough to keep the focus on the fight. Especially with all injuries that you can get during training. I have never been in a fight at 100%. You always have to go through pain and injuries. For this fight in January I was in really good shape for the first time ever but then I had to start all over again. It's like doing all twice. And this time I already have couple of injuries…but my mind and my will are unbreakable…It will be a tough time for my opponent.
If you win you will be in the semifinals of the welterweight tournament, how much of an incentive for you is that?
I take a fight at a time. I am not really focus about winning the tournament. If i can do it, for sure I will do my best but now, I am just focused on winning the next battle.
You have moved from Vietnam to Thailand to Malaysia in the last few years. How has training in so many different places helped you to improve as a martial artist?
I think to be better, you have to open your mind to others. It didn't go down so well when i was in Thailand because there is so many "Wars" between the different camps there, but thanks to all of them, I feel that I am way better as mixed martial artist. Teaching and learning fighting skills is not really legal in Vietnam , so it was difficult to improve myself. Moving to Thailand helped me a lot. Striking techniques there, are the best in the world.
How would you describe your style of fighting?
I think I am a well rounded fighter. I don't focus in only one part of fighting, I want to be good everywhere. My main goal is to be able to always find a way of winning the fight. Once, a close friend told my opponent that I was a opportunist, that I would even make a finger lock to win the fight. Lol.
How often do you train and who do you train with?
I train twice a day, six days a week in cardio, Muay Thai, grappling and MMA. I have couple of good sparring partners at Muayfit in Malaysia who push me like Eric "The Natural" Kelly, Allamurad Karayev and Samir Mrabet. Will Chope and Mark Striegl will join the team next week....You are never better than your sparring and training…so I need guys with good level.
I want to thanks the man behind the team Paul Teo who is the owner of the Muayfit gym. Even if he don’t like publicity and is maybe the most humble guy I met in my life, I really want to show my respect because thanks to him I have the chance be part of a team of pro fighters.
How much has Asian MMA changed since you have been here?
A lot! When I was still in France it was all about Pride FC but since I am in Asia I have heard about all this amazing shows like Road FC, Legend FC, Martial Combat, Dare FC and Dream and now there is ONE FC which is like the UFC in Asia.
Asia is the hometown of martial arts and you really feel the passion of people there. I am nobody here and I meet already people in Malaysia that ask me for a picture. It’s crazy. The two big places for MMA in the next two years are Malaysia and India. Believe me.
Do you dream of fighting in the UFC one day ?
Yes, for sure I am dreaming about a shot at UFC, like every fighter does. If I win my next two fights…I think it would be possible. But that's not my main goal right now. After this fight in Dare, win or lose, I want a shot at ONE FC. I want to fight in this show. I was there for One FC 2 in Jakarta and I was amazed by this event, and I would love to compete at ONE FC 4 in Kuala Lumpur so I can put on a show for my hometown crowd. Fighting for ONE FC in front of 10,000 people in the city I call home would be a dream come true.
I saw you cornered a couple of team mates at the recent One FC event, how did you enjoy that?
Damn, it was great. The show was amazing. I was really proud of my guys. Raymond Tiew did a good job and put on a good show for the fans. I hope he will recover fast from his injury because he is a young kid with lot of heart who is not scared to step in the cage for a good brawl. I respect that. Give him couple of months, let him work his ground and he will be really dangerous.
I think Peter Davis was a little bit overcome by the occasion and having to get down to 155 lbs took a lot out of him. I know he is way better that what he showed at ONE FC 2, believe me. He has sick striking, he was just a little shy that day. Don't judge him by that performance. If you sparred with him everyday like me you would know how dangerous his stand up is.
DARE Championship do things a little bit differently, how does it compare to other shows you have fought on in the past?
Dare is a live experience. You cannot feel what Dare FC is if you are not in the crowd and watch it live. I have fought around the world, thank God, and I really love the Dare experience. Jussi, the promoter, is smart, really smart. He put in his show a whole new factor that we never seen before it almost feels like a video game. I hope eventually they move to a bigger venue because with the quality of his show, you can draw way more people to watch it live, especially in Thailand!
You have been living in Asia for a long time now, do people in France still follow your career?
That’s what I am the more surprise about. You know, in France, MMA is still not really legal. Fighters have to go out of the country to fight. It’s tough to practice a sport and have to go out of your country to compete. I bow down to all pro French fighters that work during the day, train at night and go fight in another country during weekend.
So, yes, people still follow my career. That’s why I keep doing daily a video blog in French on my facebook page. They follow me so I try to keep them updated, to respect them. It’s always a pleasure to get some mails from French fans. For me, they are the most important.
Do you have any predictions for your fight with Krzystof Hajtalowicz?
No, I have not because anything can happen in an MMA fight. Even if we pump up the fight, I have a lot of respect for Cris's skills. And personally, he is a nice guy. I just hope we gonna put a hell of a fight for the crowd. Anything can happen. I am not afraid to go on the ground with him cause I bet he will try to put me on my back. He will try. We both know that this fight will not go to decision...
Do you see your future as a welterweight or would you rather compete at 155?
Are you reading my mind? Yes, the fight with Cris will be my last fight as a welterweight. Next time, Dare or ONE FC, I will fight at 155. I am done with the 170 division. I am usually walking at 78kg now, and i am really small for a welterweight. It's a whole new world for me and new fight opportunity! I will be in the same division as the main event fighters from the last ONE FC and I can't wait to test myself. Imagine me against Felipe Enomoto, would be a crazy war.
DARE 2/12 is scheduled to take place at 4:30 pm local time at the Insomnia Night Club in Bangkok, Thailand. It will be available on pay per view for USD $9.99. For more information visit: www.darefightsports.com.