Leandro Issa’s win over Masakuzu Imanari at ONE FC: ‘Destiny of Warriors’ was without doubt the biggest of his career. The Japanese veteran has been one of the top bantamweights in the world for a long time and he only ever loses to the elite fighters in the division.
By taking a comfortable unanimous decision win over the ‘Master of Leg Locks’ Issa not only extended his winning streak to seven straight fights he also established himself as a serious force at 135 lbs. He arrived in Asia in 2009 with a workmanlike 4-2 record but has not lost a fight since and he is adamant that it is no coincidence,
"Since I joined Evolve MMA I have become a completely different fighter, it is the best gym in the world. My Muay Thai has improved so much and if it hadn't been for Chatri I would never have dropped from featherweight to bantamweight and I think this is the best weight class for me."
With ONE FC aggressively expanding the roster there are plenty of potential opponents for the Brazilian. Kyung Ho Kang just won the Road FC bantamweight Grand Prix, Kevin Belingon holds the equivalent URCC belt, Gustavo Falciroli is the CFC's champion and the DREAM champion Bibiano Fernandes recently rejected an offer from the UFC to come on board.
All of these fighters would be available because they are either signed to ONE FC or promotions within the ONE FC network and according to Issa he is ready to fight absolutely any of them,
"I know there are good fighters in Korea, the Philippines and Australia but most of them I have never seen fight. I am ready to fight anyone, Victor Cui is a very good matchmaker and I will fight who he wants me to, I have seen Bibiano Fernandes fight and I know all about him. If ONE FC want me to fight him I can do that no problem."
The fight with Imanari was not the most entertaining but Issa did at least stay away from the potentially career ending leg locks of the Japanese fighter, who incidentally will be back in action at DEEP 59 next month. He makes no apologies for his strategy and believes his opponent's skill set gave him no option but to employ a patient approach,
"Imanari is a very clever fighter, very dangerous, against a fighter like this you only have to make one mistake and it is all over. I always want to finish a fight and not leave it for the judges but I knew I must be careful because he is so good with leg locks, my coaches Heath Sims and Chatri decided on this strategy and I think it was the right strategy because I won."
Issa seemed to gain in confidence as the fight wore on and by round three he was not hesitating to take down an opponent with one of the most feared and respected ground games in the business. Although he has a black belt in BJJ he was well aware of the threat of being caught in a leg lock and says he had hoped to showcase more of his stand up,
"I train every day with Orono Wor Petchpun and he was Lumpini champion and he has helped me a lot with my Muay Thai and I wanted to use it in this fight but Imanari was very clever and did not come too close when we were standing up. After I took him down I realized that even though he is very good with leg locks he was not going to submit me, I had been working a lot with one of the BJJ black belts at Evolve MMA called Takeo who is very good at leg locks too so I knew what to expect."
Both Fenandes and Belingon are expected to be on the next ONE FC card which is scheduled to take place in the 16,500 Araneta Coliseum in Manila on August 31st. It is the sort of event that every fighter wants to be involved in and Issa is no different although he has yet to receive the call,
"I am already training again and I am ready to fight next month no problem. I train every day, every week, every month so my fitness is always good and it is the same for all the fighters at Evolve MMA. If ONE FC want me to fight in August I am ready but if not maybe I can fight in Singapore the next month. Whatever happens I am ready."
ONE FC is slowly but surely putting together a very competitive bantamweight division and Issa is one of the main men. 'Brodinho' has not lost a fight in four years and after seven straight wins he has plenty of momentum, with Asian MMA rising up once more the Brazilian looks set to be one of the brightest stars to emerge from the East.