Bruno Pucci will fight in Asia for the first time at ONE FC: "Kojima vs Leone" on September 13 in Jakarta but the Brazilian brings a set of skills into the cage which marks him out as an immediate contender in the 145-pound division. He is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) black belt and two-time no Gi grappling word champion who is undefeated in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
His record stands at 2-0 but both wins came in the highly competitive Brazilian scene which, together with those world-class submission skills, makes him a featherweight force to be reckoned with. From Rickson Gracie at Vale Tudo Japan to Wanderlei Silva at Pride to Bibiano Fernandes at ONE FC, fighters from Pucci's homeland have been forging reputations in Asia and he says he is well aware of this history.
"I have fought two times in Brazil but never fought in Asia before and I am very excited to fight in Asia for ONE FC. As a kid I fell in love with MMA from watching Pride FC and I have always believed Asia is an important place of MMA."
Pucci is currently based in Singapore after receiving an invitation last year to join Evolve MMA, a camp which has a reputation as being the best in Asia. Making the move has allowed him to focus full time on his training and he thinks the results will be reflected in his next fight.
"Living in Brazil as a fighter is tough, I was dreaming one day I can be a professional athlete, but I also had to have a sustainable career to be financially independent and build a family in the future. It was difficult to be away from my family and hometown, but it was not a difficult decision to make to relocate to Singapore because in Evolve MMA, I can train under many world champions in each martial art and also I can have a comfortable life doing what I love; to train and to teach BJJ."
Although Pucci's grappling credentials are beyond reproach, he is still a relatively unknown quantity in MMA terms. His two fights to date have lasted a little over 10 minutes so he hasn't spent nearly as much time inside the cage as on the mat.
The Brazilian is being thrown in with an opponent who is rapidly making a name for himself in a country not traditionally associated with combat sports. Bashir Ahmad, from Pakistan, made his ONE FC debut earlier this year and, just like Pucci, boasts a perfect 2-0 record.
The two featherweights will lock horns at the Istora Senayan Stadium in Jakarta and Pucci says he has plenty of respect for his Pakistani opponent.
"I watched his last fight in ONE FC and I think he is a complete fighter. He has good striking skills and grappling skills and I think he’s a good match as we have similar fight record."
The September 13 fight between Pucci and Ahmad is taking place in a 15,000 seat arena and will be screened live all over Asia by Star Sports. It will be the biggest stage of the Brazilian's career and a significant stop on a journey which began when he was an unhealthy teenager.
"I started training BJJ 10 years ago. As a kid I always liked combat sports, cartoons and movies but when I was around 13 years old, I was not in good health and the doctor advised me to take exercise urgently. So one day I was accompanying my Dad to his work and we found a BJJ gym, we decide to take a look and that's how I started into BJJ."
This initial interest in BJJ would eventually develop into a life long obsession which saw Pucci claim numerous medals as well as being awarded his black belt.
"I was two times champion in the BJJ No Gi World Championship and I also got medals five times at the World Championship both with Gi and No Gi. I like to train both, Gi and No Gi, but I had better results in No Gi competitions and right now I am more focused on grappling without a Gi because of my upcoming MMA fight."
It is obvious where Pucci's strengths lie but the challenge is ensuring those submission skills translate smoothly to the MMA cage and he feels he has found the perfect environment in which to become a truly well rounded mixed martial artist.
"Training in Brazil is tough too, but it’s more professional in Evolve MMA because here we have specific time for the fighter's training and also each training session is specific for grappling, striking or MMA and all the training is under world class coaches."
Among those coaches and training partners are a few faces which will be very familiar to MMA fans.
"Heath Sims coaches me to improve my grappling, he is a great Olympic level wrestler, Orono Wor Petchpun teaches me Muay Thai, he is Muay Thai world champion and he has so many details. Also I train every day with partners on the Evolve Fight Team like Leandro Issa, Eddie Ng, Jake Butler, Zorobabel Moreira and Shinya Aoki."
Pucci isn't the first Brazilian fighter to come to Asia in search of fame and fortune but with an unbeaten record and a ONE FC contract he is on the right track to follow in the footsteps of Wanderlei Silva, Bibiano Fernandes and countless Gracies.
What happens at ONE FC: "Kojima vs Leone" will tell us a lot more about whether he has the potential to make the same sort of impression on Asian MMA as these prestigious predecessors and Pucci says he is working hard to ensure he gets off to the best possible start.
"I am excited to fight in a show like ONE FC which is the biggest in Asia and one of the biggest in the world. I have never fought in front of so many people before so I am focusing very hard on my training to make sure I am 100 percent ready on September 13."