Andrew Leone is getting into the best shape of his life.
The 27-year-old American is putting in several extra hours of hard training, as he prepares to challenge ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes for the coveted title at ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS. The main event title tilt will be broadcast live from the Cotai Arena in Macao on Saturday, 5 August.
This will be Leone’s first bout since defeating former Shooto Champion Koetsu Okazaki in February 2016. That victory initially earned the Bali MMA co-owner a shot at the ONE Interim Flyweight World Championship opposite Adriano Moraes at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD later that August, but a couple of herniated discs forced him to withdraw from the bout. It nearly forced him to withdraw from competition altogether.
While he contemplated retirement at one point, Leone successfully recovered from the injury, and credits his recovery to yoga. “For a long time, yoga was the only form of training I did,” he admits. “It really helped my back.”
Leone’s girlfriend, Olga, is a yoga instructor at Bali MMA. It was her patience, knowledge and expertise that got the athlete back on his feet.
“During the first months, we only did stretching and relaxing postures in order to ease tension in Andrew’s back,” she explains. “Then we progressed to stabilizing exercises that also works core muscles, such as planks. After a couple of months of private training, he was able to join group classes.”
Now, the road to recovery has led to a move up in weight class, and an opportunity to challenge Fernandes for the bantamweight crown.
Getting ready for a title shot, especially against a world-class opponent who has not lost in nearly six years, requires an extensive training camp. Fortunately, Leone has all the help he needs at Bali MMA, the gym he co-founded back in 2014 along with his brother Anthony and head coach Don Carlo-Claus.
Located on an ideal tropical island in Indonesia, the gym is home to several of ONE Championship’s finest prospects, including “Jungle Cat” Muhammad Aiman, BJJ brown belt Stefer Rahardian, as well as Keanu and Gianni Subba.
To prepare for his comeback, Leone is relying only on his team members in Bali MMA. “I did not bring in any additional sparring partners, because we have a great team here,” he explains. “I spar with my brother Anthony and with Donny (Carlo-Claus), who are both very tough, and do not cut me any slack.”
The American kicks his day off at 6am in the morning with two cups of coffee, lots of water, and breakfast. He is out the door before 9am, and continues the rest of his day at Bali MMA.
He trains there twice a day, first with one team in the morning, and with a second team in the afternoon. Sometimes, he will add extra strength and conditioning exercises or boxing training into his routine.
“Our team sessions last for about one and a half hours, so usually I train about three hours a day,” he says. “But occasionally, I do extra work. My training is intuitive, and I do as much or as little as the body requires. It all depends on how I feel and what I do.”
Leone has also enlisted the help of Mark Mariani, a longtime confidante from Bali Fit. Mariani, a strength and conditioning coach with a military background, puts the title challenger through insanely hard rounds of fitness.
“Andrew is a hard worker in the gym. I help him improve his stamina and explosiveness with a series of exercises using rubber bands, weights, TRX, and his own body weight,” Mariani explains. “This training is really tough, but Andrew is a warrior, and he keeps his mind focused on only one thing – winning the belt, and that helps him get through it.”
Mariani checks Leone’s martial arts training schedule for the week, and bases strength and conditioning around that. “Obviously, I do not want Andrew to burn out, so I consider everything that he does at Bali MMA,” the coach continues. “We first worked on building his strength, and now with only a couple of weeks left, we focus on stamina with sprints, medicine balls, and light weights.”
Fernandes is known to have a very respectable striking arsenal to match his elite submission skills. After all, he is a five-time BJJ World Champion. Even so, Leone, a former collegiate wrestler, is not threatened by the champion’s repertoire.
“He sets up his takedowns with punches. It is pretty standard,” the American says. “I am not afraid of him. His stand-up skills are not bad, though. I would say he is a well-rounded fighter, so I train in all aspects of my game.”
Leone knows hard work pays off, and that hard work may just lead him to becoming the next ONE Bantamweight World Champion on 5 August.