This coming Friday, 20 April, at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR in Manila, Philippines, Andrew Leone hopes to return to the front of the contender’s race in the stacked bantamweight division. He is scheduled to face Filipino knockout artist Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon in the main event.
Both athletes have clashed with ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes in the past, so it is no secret that a win in this headlining bout is crucial in their respective quests of getting a world title rematch with the Brazilian.
While it is still a relatively young facility, the Leone brothers have already started to build something really special, as several of their athletes have already found their way onto the global stage of ONE Championship.
Just days before ONE: HEROES OF HONOR, we spoke to Leone about his upcoming bout. He discusses the growth of Bali MMA and his hopes for the future, both as an athlete searching for a world title, and a coach who is guiding the next generation of martial arts superstars.
ONE Championship: How has training been going at Bali MMA, and how does training camp work when you’re trying to help the rest of the team?
Andrew Leone: Training is going great. Camp is like a myth — you focus on things when it comes down to more competition time, but always, somebody has a bout coming up. We got a bunch of coaches here.
You’ve got Mike [Ikilei] running the striking program, you’ve got Donnie [Carlo-Claus] running the mixed martial arts program, and you got a bunch of coaches telling you what to do. [There is] lots of leadership going on that is spread out.
ONE: This is your first bout back since facing Bibiano Fernandes last August. How excited are you to get back inside the ONE cage?
AL: I have been working hard since then. I am looking forward to this opportunity against Kevin Belingon. The winner gets the rematch [with Bibiano Fernandes], and I am excited for this opportunity that ONE Championship has provided, making us the headliner on arguably the biggest card in ONE history.
We are going to go out there and put on a good performance for the Filipino fans, and for the world.
ONE: What are your thoughts on your upcoming opponent, Kevin Belingon?
AL: Belingon is a tough guy, knocking everybody out. I look forward to going in there, and strangling him. ONE Championship has given me tough matches since I signed with them, and I would not have it any other way.
My first match was against Geje Eustaquio. My second match was against the number one guy in the world for years, Shinichi Kojima, somebody I looked up to when I was younger when he was competing in Shooto. He was the champion in my weight [class]. I got that win over him.
Then, I faced Koetsu Okazaki, another Shooto champ, and another guy who has a lot of wins over top bantamweights in ONE. So Belingon is another tough opponent, and I am looking forward to our match.
ONE: You are really helping to grow the sport in Indonesia. Was that a goal when you began training athletes out there?
AL: I think since Steve [Suryadinata], Donnie, my brother, and I came to Indonesia, that was always the goal. We wanted to help elevate the sport here, and bring Indonesian athletes to the world.
ONE Championship has provided an amazing opportunity to create heroes. We are really happy to be part of that. To showcase a lot of these guys’ skills on this platform, that is amazing. I could not ask for anything more.
ONE: What is it like for you to train so far away from your home in America, and why is Bali an ideal place to train at?
AL: I have almost been out here 10 years now. I came out here in 2009. I go back home twice a year, so I see my family and people I need to see for Christmas, and I will go home in August. But we’ve got everything we need out here.
I think Bali is a level up in a lot of ways than training in the U.S. There is a certain kind of focus going on over here that everyone has. We are away from the outside world.
You are not worried about some of the problems you [normally] would be when you are in your regular town, or in your regular life. You are isolated with your team, who all have the same goal.
ONE: How is it like working with your brother as the co-founders of the gym? Do you ever deal with any sibling rivalry?
AL: I am dealing with two of these guys, two brothers I am working with — Donnie, and Anthony. We may not be blood brothers [with Donnie], but we are all definitely brothers. At this point, everything works smooth. We all share our opinions on how we do things. Donnie is the director of operations, and you’ve got Anthony doing a lot of things on the back end.
We are going on four years now. We have really started to dial it in. There is no sibling rivalry. Just that when we are competing in the practice room, everyone lets everything out there, so it is all good.
ONE: What do you see as the future for Bali MMA, long term?
AL: There is a lot we see for Bali MMA, long term. We’ve got a lot of projects going on right now. With time, we will start talking about those things, but we are really excited about the future.
It is really just the beginning. We are only at the three and a half year mark of being open, and we are just starting to hit a stride and get our momentum.
Our heads are in the clouds right now, and that is exactly where they need to be. We are really excited about the next few years.
Manila | 20 April | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onehonor18