Leandro Issa: 'Soo Chul Kim Will be World Champion in the Future But This is My Time, My Belt'


Since losing to Leandro Issa at ONE FC: 'Champion vs Champion' last September Soo Chul Kim has been increasingly vocal about the fact he would like a rematch. The 20 year old Korean feels he did not perform to his full potential that day and will do better next time around.

The man who will be facing him at ONE FC: 'Rise of the Kings' on October 6th, with the bantamweight belt at stake, has not had as much to say but, with the rematch already booked, Issa revealed that the win over Kim was not one he looked back on with any pride,

"I was not happy with my performance in that fight because I wanted win by submission and even though I had some very good chances to do that I did not make the most of them. I made some mistakes and I do not even like to watch the video because it is embarrassing, I won't make the same mistakes again."

At 28 years old Issa is rapidly approaching the top of the sport. The BJJ black belt who once won gold at the Mundials has won seven straight fights and dominated Japanese veteran Masakazu Imanari in his most recent outing at ONE FC: 'Destiny of Warriors'.

He is about to fight for the most prestigious title which a fighter competing in Asia can aspire to and if he can improve his record to 11-2 with his eighth successive win his can consider himself firmly established as one of the best bantamweights in the world.

Issa is not looking beyond Kim and believes that whatever happens at the Singapore Indoor Stadium next month the Korean is destined to be a champion one day,

"The first time I fought him he was tough and he has had more fights since then and they tell me he just beat two very good fighters. I did not start to fight MMA until I was 23 and he is only 20 and already has a lot of fights so in the future I think he can be a world champion but this is my time and my belt. No-one is going to stand between me and becoming ONE FC champion, it is my dream."

For Issa, who trains at the world renowned Evolve MMA camp, winning the ONE FC belt would be the next stage on a journey which began way back in 1998,

"I always loved to fight but when I was young I got in too much trouble. My brother showed me BJJ and it changed my life, I love BJJ and it has taught me so much. I have been in maybe 300 BJJ tournaments, now I work a lot on Muay Thai and wrestling but BJJ will always be my main skill."

The Brazilian's BJJ education took him to the Gordo Jiu Jitsu Academy in Rio De Janeiro where he earned his stripes training alongside around 50 other black belts. From there he 'graduated' to Evolve MMA in Singapore and he credits the trainers there with transforming him from just another prospect on the Brazilian scene to one of the best fighters in the world,

"Before I came to Singapore my record was 4-2 but for MMA I was still a beginner. If I had stayed in Brazil I would never have learned so much, Evolve MMA is the best place in the world for a fighter to learn and I am lucky because I get to train Muay Thai and boxing with the best trainers like Yodsanan, Orono and Namsaknoi. This would not be possible in Brazil."

The first time Issa and Kim faced each other the Brazilian controlled the action on the ground and more than held his own in the stand up exchanges but wasn't always able to dictate where the fight took place. This is one area of his game which he is confident has improved immeasurably in the intervening months,

"MMA is not just BJJ and Muay Thai, wrestling is very important too and that's why Chatri (the Evolve MMA owner) bought in Heath Sims and Jake Butler this year. That has really made big difference to all the fighters, not just me, I have been working a lot with Heath Sims. If you have good Muay Thai, good BJJ you can fight anywhere but to be able to decide where you want to fight is the best and with good wrestling you can do that."

The win over Imanari in June was the most eye catching of Issa's career and also gave him a measure of revenge for the previous time he faced a Japanese fighter, when an illegal strike which broke his groin guard contributed towards a TKO loss.

It was the second successive fight which Issa has gone the distance but given the calibre of the opponent he was not too concerned,

"Imanari is very dangerous with leg locks and I trained a lot to prepare for that. In the third round I became more confident because I saw that I could take him down and I felt very safe on the ground but I had to show him a lot of respect because he has submitted so many fighters and I did not want to make a mistake."

While Issa has plenty of respect for Kim he does not feel his is dealing with a fighter of quite the same calibre as Imanari,

"Kim is good at everything but he does not have one thing which he is really dangerous with. I train with BJJ black belts, Muay Thai champions and Heath Sims who was Olympic wrestler, Jake Butler who is NCAA wrestler, there is nothing which he is better at than my team mates so there will be no surprises. He is tough, he is fit, he is strong and it will not be an easy fight but my trainers and training partners at Evolve MMA are the best in the world, I don't think Kim is the best in the world at anything and that is why I know I am ready for him."

Issa is originally from Ubataba in the South East of Brazil but has well and truly settled down in Singapore, where he has already won four fights out of four. He enjoys strong support from the fans in his adopted home and says this gives him all the motivation he needs to become the first ever ONE FC Bantamweight Champion,

"My life in Singapore is very good, I am so lucky. Everyone shout for me when I fight and support me even if I am sorry my English is not so good. I want to win for my Evolve MMA family, my life is so good now because of Evolve MMA and everything is good in my fighting career because Chatri he really believed in me for a long time. I want to bring the belt back to Evolve MMA to say 'thank you'."

Interview courtesy of Evolve MMA.

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