Leandro Issa and Jumabieke Tuerxun have both been making waves in Asian mixed martial arts (MMA) with the former challenging unsuccessfully for the inaugural ONE FC bantamweight title and the latter winning the 135-pound belt at Legend FC before turning down a RUFF title shot to sign with UFC.
Their paths will finally cross on Sunday night (July 6, 2014) when they meet on the card of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 Finale at the conclusion of the biggest UFC week of the year. It's a fight which you might have expected to take place in Asia, but Issa is excited to be fighting in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the very first time.
"I remember watching fights in Las Vegas when I was a young boy in Brazil and to be fighting here myself is a dream, and also to be on the same card as UFC champions like BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar who I have seen fight on TV many times, it is a big moment for my career," he said.
Issa was one of the founding members of Evolve MMA and arrived in Singapore without a word of English and barely a penny to his name to take up a job as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) instructor. He won a gold medal at the Mundials in 2004 and is a black belt who believes he will have a clear advantage over Jumabieke should the fight go to the ground.
"I have been doing Jiu Jitsu for maybe 15 years and I train every day with the other BJJ black belts at Evolve MMA like Bruno Pucci and Herbert Burns, so I am still improving. In an MMA fight anything can happen, but I am always confident in my ground game," he said.
The Brazilian's last eight fights have all been in Asia with the vast majority taking place in his adopted home of Singapore. He says he has done the bulk of his preparation work at Evolve MMA, but has spend the last couple of weeks acclimatizing to a different time zone and climate along with one of his coaches.
"I worked every day at Evolve MMA with Muay Thai world champion Orono Wor Petchpun who helps me with my striking and boxing world champion Yodsanan Sityodtong, who just works on my hands, as well as wrestling Olympian Heath Sims and all the BJJ black belts, but for the last bit of my camp, I went to Team Quest in California," he said.
Issa's UFC debut did not exactly go to plan as he was submitted in the second round after a brutal weight cut, but the Brazilian is confident he has made the adjustments he needs to ensure that there is no repeat of those struggles with the scales.
"That was my hardest weight cut ever and it definitely affected me in the second round. I had some health problems before the fight which made it more difficult to make weight, but this time I feel fine and I have had a very good training camp at Evolve MMA and Team Quest and I feel good."
The bantamweight bout will take place on Monday morning Asian time but there is still likely to be plenty of interest, particularly in China and Singapore, and Issa is looking forward to testing himself against an opponent who has been on his radar for a while.
"We have always been signed to different promotions but I know who Jumabieke is because he fought my Evolve MMA team mate Irshaad Sayed twice in China. I want to win all my fights, it does not matter where my opponent is from, but he has won some titles in Asia already, so if I could defeat him, I think it would be a very good moment for my career."
Issa vs. Tuerxun will be shown live on FOX Sports 1 and full results can be found here.