Andrew Leone truly has his own slice of paradise.
The 27-year-old American, who is set to challenge ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes for the belt at ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS in Macao, is the co-owner of Indonesia’s most prominent gym, Bali MMA. There, he trains and teaches mixed martial arts on the tropical island of Bali, and regularly catches some of the best waves in the world.
“I love Bali lifestyle,” he says. “I have everything here: world-class training, the waves, and a team.”
Over the past decade, Leone, who grew up along the shores of Long Island, New York, has created a completely new life for himself in Asia. Now, he is determined to make Bali in Indonesia a premier destination in the martial arts world.
Back in 2010, the former collegiate wrestler left Missouri Valley College and found himself living in Bangkok, Thailand. For the next year and a half, he was teaching English classes and wrestling, all while starting his professional mixed martial arts career. He then received an offer to help coach the Singapore national wrestling team, and also be a part of the wrestling program at the renowned Juggernaut Fight Club.
Next, Leone found himself training and coaching wrestling full-time at the famed Phuket Top Team in 2012. Aside from joining the gym and reuniting with his brother, Anthony Leone, he continued to compete on the Asian circuit.
With so much experience accumulated in such a short time, Leone was ready when a huge opportunity came knocking on his door. Fate sent a messenger in the form of Steven Suryadinata, the owner of Jakarta Muay Thai and MMA.
“He contacted myself and my brother Antony. He was looking to add a jiu-jitsu program to his gym’s schedule,” said Leone. However, this would become a lot more than just a teaching gig. “Eventually, we were offered a partnership in the gym. Jakarta Muay Thai and MMA was our first foot in the door. Later, we started mapping out the Bali project.”
Suryadinata would go on to make an even wiser move. Knowing the Leones’ love for surfing, he took the brothers for a weekend on the island paradise of Bali, and sold them on the idea of opening a gym in that beautiful part of Indonesia.
“We saw an opportunity here,” Leone says. “There was clearly a market in Bali for people who wanted to do training vacations, but there was a lack of high-level facilities. Nobody at the time could offer the world-class international training that we are offering at Bali MMA now.”
Besides, there were huge waves at local spots Padang Padang and Uluwatu, as well as perfect breaks on the doorstep of their gym in Canggu.
“Since we were very young, we kept wrestling and surfing together,” the American recalls about growing up with his brother Anthony. “When Steve brought us to Bali, we saw that miles away from our native Long Island, such a place existed. So we stayed.”
In August 2014, Leone and company took over an old warehouse, set up a boxing ring, hung up some heavy bags, and prepared a room for jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts training. By October, Bali MMA had officially opened its doors.
In fact, the gym was such a success, Leone’s first clients came to train even before the club had any mats. At that point, there wasn’t even a reception desk.
“We used to train with these Australian guys in Phuket Top Team,” Leone remembers. “They showed up in our gym on the first day we opened it, but no mats were fitted yet. So we just threw some stuff down on the floor and got some work in.”
Together, the brothers — along with Suryadinata, along their friend and head coach Don Carlo-Claus — put down some cash to lift the gym off the ground. For the last three years, their focus has been on building trust with other gyms around the region, and filling Bali MMA with international talent.
These days, Bali MMA is home to ONE Championship star athletes Muhammad Aiman, Stefer Rahardian, and Giani and Keanu Subba. It is also the home of kickboxing world champion Tiffany Van Soest.
“Around Southeast Asia, Thailand was known as a better country for doing martial arts training,” Leone states. “Clearly, with Bali MMA, we started a new thing down here. Before us, no one thought of Bali as a place to learn martial arts at a high level. I know that now, more gyms will come over.”
In the years to come, there may very well be a few more gyms to set up shop in both Bali and Jakarta, but Leone and company are at the cusp of something special. Not only are they bringing world-class athletes into their establishments, but they are also cultivating local talent and molding them into the superstars of tomorrow.
This is especially admirable, considering the Indonesian martial arts scene is now on the rise.
“We have many Indonesians training with us both in Jakarta and in Bali, learning, growing and training hard for their personal goals in fitness and martial arts,” Leone states. “The gym organizes regular events in Bali to give our students an opportunity to compete and test their skills. Our team has big goals, and I believe we are on the right path.”
If Leone were to defeat Fernandes at ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS in Macao, those big goals would undoubtedly become a lot more achievable.