The biggest achievement of Leandro Issa's martial arts career to date was winning a gold medal at the 2004 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) Mundials World Championship, but a win over legendary Japanese fighter Masakazu Imanari at ONE Fighting Championship: 'Destiny of Warriors' next month might even top that.
The Brazilian, who is one of nine BJJ black belts working at Evolve MMA, has not looked like losing a fight since moving to Singapore in 2009. His record stands at 9-2 and he is riding a six fight win streak which led ONE FC matchmakers to decide it was time to throw him into the deep end against 'The Master of Leg Locks.'
It will be a defining moment in Issa's career and a win would propel him into the top 20 in the bantamweight division but, with a potential 10,000 fans in attendance and many more watching on ESPN Star Sports, it will also be the culmination in a journey which began back in 1998.
"I used to get in a lot of fights when I was younger but my life changed when I was 14 and I discovered BJJ. I think I have competed in maybe 300 BJJ matches now and in 2004 I won the World Championship, BJJ has given me an amazing life because I train everyday with the best martial artists in the world in Singapore and have a very good job at Evolve MMA."
Issa made his ONE FC debut last September in the first fight ever held by the promotion. It is a moment which will probably go down in the history of martial arts because the biggest promotion in Asia is well on its way to establishing itself as the UFC of the East but the Brazilian's memories of that night are mixed.
"I was happy to get the win but I think I made some mistakes and there were some positions which I did not make the best of and some chances for submissions that I did not take. It was good experience because I have never had a decision before in my MMA career but I think I could have done a lot better."
Imanari will offer a completely different type of challenge. He has held Deep titles and both bantamweight and featherweight and is a Dream veteran who has faced the likes of Bibiano Fernandes, Mike Brown and Joachim Hansen in a career which has spanned 12 years and 37 fights.
Both fighters hold BJJ black belts but Imanari, who is coming off a quickfire submission win against the previously unbeaten Kevin Belingon at ONE FC: 'War of the Lions', has a huge advantage in terms of MMA experience. Issa is aware of his opponents credentials but feels that his time is coming.
"I respect him a lot and it will be a hard fight for sure. I have been working everyday with the other BJJ black belts at Evolve MMA and will have to be careful about leg locks because they are his speciality and he is very dangerous but I believe I can beat him, I train with the best fighters in the world in Muay Thai, BJJ, boxing and wrestling and it makes me confident I can beat the best when I fight MMA."
One factor in Issa's favour will be a four inch height advantage and even though he was disappointed not to finish his last fight with a submission he did get the opportunity to showcase his Muay Thai skills. Keeping the fight standing could be his key to victory and he says he is confident in his striking.
"I did not know how bad my Muay Thai was until I came to Evolve MMA because most of the trainers have had over 300 fights and are champions from Thailand. They have helped me a lot and I work with Attachai Fairtex and Orono Wor Petchpun all the time, I am more than just submission fighter now but BJJ will always by my speciality."
Imanari has a fearsome reputation for not just submitting his opponents but wrenching limbs out of sockets with his leg locks. He put Mike Brown out for the best part of a year but Issa says that fear will not be a factor.
"I don't think about getting injured, it is always possible in any sport, nor just MMA or fighting and I have friends who play football who have had much more problems with injuries than me. I train hard every day and I have the best training partners in the world, I will fight with no fear."
ONE Fighting Championship: 'Destiny of Warriors' is set for June 23rd in Kuala Lumpur and will be available on PPV for $10 at http://www.onefc.com.