Arnaud Lepont has risen rapidly to prominence in Asian mixed martial arts (MMA) courtesy of some fan-friendly antics, but charisma alone might not be enough for the Frenchman to retain his place among the division's elite if he doesn't defeat Kotetsu Boku at ONE FC: "War of Nations."
Lepont (10-3) burst onto the Asian scene by submitting Jian Kai Chee, Krzysztof Hajtalowicz and Brian Choi, but then suffered setbacks as he was submitted himself by Shinya Aoki and Eddie Ng. Next up is another tough fight against former ONE FC 155-pound champion Kotetsu Boku in Kuala Lumpur next Friday night (March 14, 2014).
The brutal finish of Zorobabel Moreira which won Boku the ONE FC belt established him with an immediate reputation as a hard hitter, while Lepont's battle with Choi was a brawl and his fight with Ng was also an entertaining back-and-forth affair.
The ingredients seem to be in place for another potential "Fight of the Night" contender at ONE FC: "War of Nations," but Lepont warns not to underestimate the skill set of either him or his opponent.
"I think it’s gonna be a good fight, maybe more technical than what people think it will be. Boku is famous for his boxing skills. I have a good chin and a strong will but I hope to be able to mix up my style and respect the game plan this time. Boku is the former champion, it’s gonna be a tough fight for me, once again."
In 13 fights Lepont has never once been the distance, as most of his wins and losses have come by way of submission, but he says he is becoming more patient with experience.
"Maybe it will be my first decision. I really hope to be able to be patient and enjoy every minute of this fight. I was planning to pull Eddie to decision during my last fight 'til he got this incredible armbar on me. I am not into any rush to finish this fight. I will try to dominate every aspect of it, and I hope to be disciplined this time."
A third consecutive loss would leave Lepont with an uncertain ONE FC future but the 33 year old believes that his record speaks for itself and regardless of what happens at Stadium Negara on March 14th, big fights will still beckon.
"I don’t think of the future at the moment. I try to focus on this fight and give the best of me. After this fight, I will sit with my coaches and family; will make a decision where to head my career. I am still 10-3 and I lost only to the top of my division."
Since moving to Asia, Lepont lived and worked in both Vietnam and Thailand before making Kuala Lumpur his home. He is a trainer at the recently opened T-Rex Gym there and believes the Malaysian crowd will be firmly behind him when he takes on Boku.
"I am happy to fight once again in front of my hometown. It’s very important to me. I hope I will have a huge support from the locals and the fans. I think it’s the best card since ONE FC 6 in Singapore. Fans of MMA in Kuala Lumpur are lucky to have that level of card and the cherry on the top of the cake is we are back in Negara stadium. I love the energy in Negara."
Lepont's fight with Ng was close and competitive right up to the point when the Hong Konger pulled an armbar out of nowhere at the very end of the second round. However, the French fighter is worried he will be remembered for the speed which he was submitted by Aoki and thinks a defeat of Boku would potentially be career defining.
"I think Boku is definitely in the top five of the division. If I beat him, it will certainly make people forget about my performance against Shinya. I always want to fight the best and I will prove that I can beat the odds at War of Nations."
The loss to Aoki might have been disappointing, but it inspired Lepont to work on his weaknesses and become a much more well-rounded fighter and he hopes the improvements will be there for all to see at ONE FC: "War of Nations."
"I train in my gym T-Rex and I train my jiu-jitsu at Monarchy with my friend and ONE FC fighter Samir Mrabet. In the past, I have been way too lazy with my ground and Shinya made me realize that I have to be more invested and reach another level, so now I practice my whole game and I am pushing myself to another level."
Boku represents a serious test of Lepont's credentials. The Japanese fighter is much more experienced and has been tried and tested against some of the top fighters in the world, but the Frenchman would love nothing more than to upset the odds by securing a historic win in his adopted hometown on March 14th.