Anthony Leone is used to being the underdog.
No one anticipated his Bellator 83 win over former bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky, who subsequently signed with the UFC, and no one is expecting him to bear reigning 135-pound titleholder Eduardo Dantas next month.
A couple of weeks ago, Leone wasn't even expecting to fight, but when Rafael Silva got injured in training the call came to step in and face Dantas and the New Yorker answered.
"I had no hesitation at all because I want to be a champion and fight the best in the world. I train all year around anyway but I was preparing my brother Andrew for his fight in ONE FC so in the three weeks before I got the call I was training much harder," he said.
Leone was at Phuket Top Team helping his younger brother Andrew, who is facing Shinichi Kojima at ONE FC: "War of Nations" next month, but as soon as Bellator got in touch, he hopped on a flight back to his native New York for a few weeks of preparation ahead of a match-up he fervently believes he can win.
"I think this is a great match up for me. He is very tough but he has holes."
It could easily have been Leone who was handed the title shot in the first place. He rode a four-fight win streak all the way to the Bellator Summer Tournament Final last year only to drop a unanimous decision to Silva in what he feels was a frustratingly sub-par performance,
"It was a huge disappointment. I came in with the wrong game plan and didn't do any of the things that I usually do, but it was a huge learning experience, probably more so than any fight because for that fight I trained very hard but had the wrong strategy," he said.
Leone is originally from Long Island and when he is not in Phuket he trains out of Team Bomb Squad in New York. He has never fought professionally in his home state and believes bureaucracy and corruption is to blame for the current ban on MMA.
"I would think the ban in New York would be lifted in the future but it's very disappointing that there is a ban. It's sad to see how corrupt things are and how dirty politics can be and it makes it very difficult for us New York fighters because we are always fighting the hometown hero and in the enemy's backyard. I would love to fight in New York and hopefully the greedy politicians can make a deal and get it legal in the future," he said.
Despite not being able to compete in their own backyards, the Leone brothers still have plenty of experience and will be doing battle on opposite sides of the world next month. On March 7th, Anthony fights for the 135-pound title at Bellator 111 in Oklahoma and then seven days later, Andrew takes on Shinichi Kojima at ONE FC: "War of Nations" in Kuala Lumpur.
Leone plans to be cageside for his brother's fight in Malaysia and would love nothing more than to get on the long flight to Asia after having been crowned the new Bellator bantamweight champion.
"On March 7th I'm going to win the Bellator World Title and then I'm flying straight to Thailand to watch my brother Andrew win in Malaysia."