Brazilian featherweight Bruno Pucci has not fought in 18 months but the two-time no-gi grappling world champion will be returning to the cage at ONE: "Spirit of Champions" next week. He's taking on undefeated Dutchman Anthony Engelen and says the reason for his prolonged absence from competitive mixed martial arts (MMA) action was due to a longstanding injury.
"I’ve had a back injury, two herniated discs, since four years ago before I came to Singapore. After years of training it had started to worsen so after my last fight in May, 2014 I finally decided to get it fixed as it was starting to impede my progress."
Pucci won his first three fights by rear naked choke, submitting one undefeated Brazilian prospect and finishing Bashir Ahmad in his ONE debut. The Brazilian suffered his first-ever defeat at the hands of Major Overall last year and says this setback was an important learning curve for him.
"I definitely learned a lot from my last fight. I’ve been working to fix the gaps in my game, especially on my footwork. As a martial artist, we should always be looking for areas to develop ourselves. My fans can always expect me to be better than my past fights."
His opponent is making his promotional debut but brings a 3-0 record into their December 11th match up, which is set for the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila. Pucci is aware of Engelen's achievements in Indonesia and believes it should make for a competitive fight.
"I know Anthony’s Dutch and I can expect that their kickboxing would be fairly good. Also, he’s training at Alliance Indonesia so I’m expecting some ground game too. He seems like a well-rounded fighter given his record of wins via decision, TKO and submission. We’ve got a similar number of MMA fights so far so I think this will be a good match up."
Pucci is a member of the fight team at Evolve MMA. His team mates Mark Striegl, Alex Silva, Angela Lee, and Christian Lee are all competing alongside him on the December 11th card while Shinya Aoki will be fighting in Japan at the end of the month and the Brazilian says it makes for a competitive atmosphere in training.
"Heath Sims is the head trainer so I am working with him and have also been sparring and rolling with the other BJJ black belts and fighters like Shinya Aoki, Eddie Ng, Mark Striegl, Alex Silva etc. For my striking, I’m working with Kru Kanongsuk Chuwattana."
Since making his debut in 2011 Pucci has fought exactly once per year, a streak which will be extended by next weeks' event. However he hasn't been sticking to a deliberate schedule, instead injuries have prevented him from performing as often as he would have liked.
"As I mentioned before the injury I’ve had was bothering me for many years. Now I’ve finally gotten it fixed I'm looking forward to fighting as much as I can."
At the age of 25, Pucci still has plenty of time to improve and he would not be fighting for ONE Championship in the first place were it not for a series of fortuitous events. First, he decided to take up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) after being encouraged to get more exercise as a child.
""I started training martial arts for medical reasons. I was always short and weak and I needed to exercises because I had growth problems. I had really enjoyed playing WWE video games that's why I started training in martial arts and BJJ."
Pucci would go on to earn a black belt and studied physical education at university, but he could easily have become a soldier instead of a mixed martial artist.
"If I wasn't a fighter I think I’d probably be in the army, as I like the notion of defending our nation. When I was in university I was already in the last stage of selection to be enlisted, but I decided to back out as I wanted more time to train BJJ and MMA."
Having graduated, Pucci was looking for opportunities as a BJJ coach and when he got the call to move to Singapore and start work at Evolve MMA he did not hesitate.
"I joined Evolve in November 2012, six months after graduating from university. My plan was already to move out of Brazil and find a job in martial arts where I could coach and train. It only took two weeks from the time I got the call from Evolve to taking the flight out to Singapore."
Since Pucci last fought the ONE Championship 145 lbs title has changed hands twice with Koji Oishi surrendering the crown to Narantungalag Jadambaa, who was himself submitted by Marat Gafurov. It's one of the organization;s most competitive divisions and the Brazilian will be looking to prove he can be a contender with a win on December 11th.