ONE FC: "Kojima vs Leone" will be the first time that a fighter from Pakistan has taken on an opponent from Brazil. In mixed martial arts (MMA) terms, it is a mismatch, the country which has produced more champions than any other against a place where the sport is still a novelty.
The man entrusted with the task of bridging this immense gulf in terms of success and experience is Bashir Ahmad. After a triumphant international debut at ONE FC: "Kings & Champions" in March, he was mobbed by fans at Lahore Airport, but will need to put in the performance of his life if he wants a similar reception this time around.
The opponent facing Ahmad on September 13 is Bruno Pucci, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) black belt and No Gi Grappling World Champion and the Pakistani knows he is in for the toughest test of his MMA career.
"He brings a very specific skill set to the table which makes this a very, very fun fight to train for. I know that after training at Evolve, he's gonna have improved in all other areas of his game and I am prepared for that. However, I really like the match up and I think it is going to do a lot to make me a better fighter not only for this fight, but down the road, too."
Both fighters boast perfect professional records of 2-0, but whereas Ahmad's pair of wins have come in Singapore and Pakistan, his opponent emerged from the highly competitive Brazilian scene and Pucci's most recent victory was over a 4-0 fighter.
It is difficult to find high enough caliber training partners in Pakistan and for this reason Ahmad has decided to base himself in the U.S. as he prepares to do battle in front of 15,000 Indonesian fans at the Istora Senayan Stadium in Jakarta.
"I am in Virginia training for this fight, so expect the best Bashir Ahmad we've seen so far. My area has a lot of gyms so what I have done is that I have one main MMA coach, Bill Easlick, and I am also taking this opportunity to train at different gyms in the area. We have top level grapplers and I will be heading up to New York a few times this trip to train there as well."
Ahmad made the decision to train in the U.S because he knows what a significant moment this will be for him. A win over an opponent with Pucci's credentials would be a massive boost to his MMA career and immediately establish him as one of the top featherweights on the ONE FC roster, but a loss would be devastating for his growing army of supporters in Pakistan.
His win over Wiratchai was live on ESPN in his homeland and seeing Ahmad enjoy success competing for Asia's biggest MMA promotion has been a major boost for the fight scene in Pakistan.
"Me fighting for ONE FC was awesome. Pakistani MMA suddenly became legit and people wanted to be a part of this who previously were not taking us as seriously as they should, and I am talking mostly about sponsors. I got signed to one of the largest mens-wear brands in the country, Stone Age, right after the fight. Winning a ONE FC fight did a lot both for me personally and for the sport."
Asian MMA is expanding rapidly and neighboring India has seen some promoters sink money into the industry although, so far, with scant reward. Pakistan has a more precarious security situation, but Ahmad still believes that the sport has plenty of potential to grow.
"We can't even have international cricket in the country ever since the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team despite the country loving cricket. So, I don't know what we can expect if the time comes when we can have 10,000 people at an MMA event, but Pakistan does have a love for action and wrestling is in our history so yes, it can take off here. I think it's the type of sport that can be immensely popular anywhere."