Leandro Issa and Jumabieke Tuerxun are two bantamweights who have big reputations on the Asian MMA scene. The former is an Art of War and Martial Combat veteran who challenged for the ONE FC belt, while the latter held the Legend FC title and was set to fight for the Ruff strap before deciding to sign with the UFC instead.
These two bantamweights train at two of the best known camps in the region with Jumabieke based at the Xian Sports University, which is home to a high percentage of China’s top talent, and Issa a member of the world-renowned Evolve MMA fight team.
Their paths have never previously crossed, but there are clear parallels between their career trajectories. Both are coming off disappointing defeats on their UFC debuts with Issa being submitted by Russell Doane and Jumabieke dropping a unanimous decision to Mark Eddiva.
It was a disappointing outcome for the Brazilian, who is one of the most decorated grapplers in the division, but Issa says he is determined to give UFC fans a glimpse of the talent that has seen him overcome the likes of Soo Chul Kim, Masakazu Imanari, and Yusup Saadulaev.
“I was definitely upset that I lost my UFC debut in Singapore, but that is the way MMA is, anything can happen. I learned a lot from that fight and I have been training hard with all the world champions at Evolve MMA and want to put in a better performance against Jumabieke,” he said.
Issa struggled to make the 135-pound limit and was seen backstage being propped up by a couple of his cornermen as he could barely walk prior to the weigh-in, but he refuses to take anything away from Doane, who submitted him in the second round.
“It was a tough weight cut for sure because I had some medical issues at the time. I was tired during the fight due to that, but that is not an excuse for the result, my opponent was very tough and he deserves the victory.”
That fight took place at Marina Bay Sands in Issa’s adopted home of Singapore, a country he has fought in multiple times for the now defunct Martial Combat and more recently for ONE FC, but his bout with Jumabieke will be at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
It is a venue that is synonymous with big money fights both in boxing and MMA and the TUF 19 Finale will be headlined by a match-up involving two former UFC champions when Frankie Edgar faces BJ Penn.
While it will be unfamiliar territory for Issa, who has never fought in Las Vegas before, he is looking forward to sharing a card with one of the most iconic fighters in the history of MMA.
“I am really excited to fight in Las Vegas, especially so because I'm on the same fight card as a legend such as BJ Penn. I can't wait to fight there.”
Issa is based full time at Evolve MMA in Singapore, but plans to spend some time training at Team Quest with his coach Heath Sims in order to acclimatize and adjust to the time difference.
“My intention is to travel to the U.S. at least 10 days prior to my fight. My main training camp will definitely be done here at Evolve MMA, but I believe that I will be training at Team Quest where my head coach, Heath Sims, used to coach and train at.”
Jumabieke signed for the UFC on the back of a big reputation in China having gone undefeated in both Legend FC and Ruff, winning the belt with the former and earning a title shot with the latter, which he passed up in order to compete in the Octagon.
Two of those Ruff wins were against Evolve MMA’s Irshaad Sayed, but both were close and competitive fights with Jumabieke winning the first by unanimous decision and the second by split decision. The Brazilian says he has been getting some tips from his teammate ahead of the TUF 19 Finale.
“Irshaad fought Jumabieke before he joined Evolve MMA, but he has been helping me with this fight and has given me some advice on my game plan. Me and Irshaad come from different background because he is a Muay Thai world champion and I am BJJ black belt, but we always learn a lot from each other.”
Issa is a decorated grappler who won a gold medal at the Mundials in 2004 and he believes that this could be a key factor in determining the outcome of his forthcoming fight.
“Jumabieke has a good wrestling base and good striking, but he definitely has some weakness on the ground with his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. At Evolve MMA, I train with wrestling Olympian Heath Sims and NCAA Division One wrestler Jake Butler as well as many famous Thai champions, so I am confident in my striking and takedown defense, but my greatest strength is definitely my ground game,” he said.
Some fighters train on a seasonal basis, taking time off between fights and only getting back in the gym once an opponent is confirmed. Issa is not one of them and says he has spent the six months since the loss to Doane working constantly to add to his existing skillset.
“I have been trying to improve myself every day by training six days a week with all my teammates on the Evolve Fight Team. When you work with world champions, there is always something new you can learn,” he said.
Jumabieke and Issa are names that need no introduction to the Asian audience, but both have plenty to prove inside the Octagon. Only one man will be making the long trip back with a UFC win to his name and Issa is determined to give his Chinese opponent a second consecutive taste of defeat.
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