At “WEC 49: Varner vs. Shalorus“, fight fans will get an opportunity to draw their own conclusions about Renan Barao — training partner of the current WEC champ and a 20-1 Brazilian fighter whose current 20-fight win streak dates all the way back to his pro debut — but while all the hype seems to surround Barao for his upcoming WEC bantamweight debut, people shouldn’t be too quick to count out the challenger, Anthony Leone.
One of several undefeated fighters from Team Bombsquad, Leone himself is no stranger to trading punches with champions. At 21, he left Long Island, NY and headed to Hilo, HI to study MMA under former UFC Lightweight Champion B.J. Penn. Since then he’s compiled an undefeated record of 8-0 and is just as eager as Barao to get his name out there this Sunday at WEC49.
“My opponent is pretty good. He’s 20-1, with a 20-fight win streak, I know that, but he’s never really faced a wrestler or somebody who will switch it up on him like I can,” Leone said. “All the guys he’s fought are mostly Muay Thai fighters… I don’t know, I think he’s got a lot of hype behind him.”
Leone on the other hand has been winning quietly the last two years, jumping back and forth between the 145 and 155 lb. divisions, but always in the mix with the best around and consistently coming out on top by submission or decision.
Before coming back from Hawaii in 2008, Leone turned to the popular MMA forum The Underground in search of a quality camp to join when he got home to New York. Right away, all signs pointed to Cortland based Bombsquad.
“That was all Zack,” said Leone. “We met on The Underground and he asked me, ‘What type of opponents are you looking for?’ Then he gave me three options; an easy opponent, a hard opponent or whoever we put in front of you. I said, ‘I don’t really care.’ I was 1-0 at the time and feeling pretty good. The rest is history.”
Leone has kept busy since he got back to the mainland and has been in and out of the cage just about every three months for his entire career, but it wasn’t until he took a single fight at 135 that he got noticed by the likes of the WEC.
He and his manager had decided a few months back that the WEC was just too stacked at 145 to make a run at a featherweight contract, so when a new promotion called the XCFL offered Leone a title shot and a chance to drop to 135 for a fight with undefeated Boston Sityodtong prodigy in Teteki Matsui, he jumped at the chance.
The result was a bantamweight debut that contained more memorable moments than most’s career highlight video.
Leone revealed new found speed and the same kind of power against Matsui. He took him down with slams from the front as well as behind, unloaded straight left and right punches at an incredible pace and ate more than one headkick as well as an illegal knee to the head while he was down.
“I had to cut 30 pounds to make 135,” said Leone. “I think i got a lot faster but those guys [in the WEC] are so much faster too. It’s got its ups and downs.”
The real difference in the wrestler’s game came when he moved Upstate so he could train with the Bombsquad full time. He explained there were people to roll with in Long Island but nothing could match the sparring he received day in and day out with his brothers at arms in Cortland.
“Moving up to Cortland has been great for me,” he said. “Back when I used to train in Long Island we’d mostly work on my wrestling or jiu-jitsu, but not spar. Then, I come up to Cortland and we’re forced to spar atleast three or four times a week. I never used to like to get hit, but now I’m used to it. I’m never scared to get in cage and take a shot. I know it’s going to happen — I know I’m going to get punched — it’s just a matter of doing it back to him.”
As World Extreme Cagefighting continues to gather up the most talented fighters under 155 pounds, more and more exciting fights have found their way onto the undercard. This weekend’s event will feature Wagney Fabiano along with Raphael Assuncao and Diego Nunes competing in the featherweight and bantamweight divisions, and fight fans can’t afford to miss Barao and Leone.