Andrew Leone has turned his island fantasy into a reality.
The 27-year-old American is the co-owner of Indonesia’s most prominent gym, Bali MMA. He wakes up every morning in the tropical paradise of Bali, teaches martial arts, trains for his upcoming battles, and regularly surfs at some of the best beaches in the world.
“I love the Bali lifestyle,” he states. “I have everything here: world-class training, the waves, and a team.”
Leone has created a new life for himself in Asia, a world apart from the one he led during his childhood in Long Island, or during his college years in Missouri.
Back in 2010, the former wrestler found himself more enthralled with martial arts than his education. So he left Missouri Valley College, saved up US$2000, and relocated to Bangkok, Thailand.
Initially, Leone taught English classes, as well as wrestling. He also trained, and made his professional cage debut later that June. He maintained this hectic lifestyle until mid-2011, when he accepted an offer to help coach the Singapore national wrestling team, and also be a part of the wrestling program at Juggernaut Fight Club.
The following year, Leone joined the famed Phuket Top Team as a wrestling coach. While there, he reunited with his brother, Anthony Leone, and truly started to emerge on the Asian circuit as one of the most exciting competitors in the region.
Soon, the brothers were given a massive opportunity when Steven Suryadinata, the owner of Jakarta Muay Thai and MMA, reached out to them with a tremendous offer.
“He contacted myself, and my brother Anthony. He was looking to add a jiu-jitsu program to his gym’s schedule,” Leone says. “Eventually, we were offered a partnership in the gym. Jakarta Muay Thai and MMA was our first foot in the door.”
The other foot would follow shortly thereafter.
Knowing the Leones’ love for surfing, Suryadinata 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,” the bantamweight continues. “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 of his New York childhood with 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, the brothers — along with co-owners Suryadinata, and Don Carlo-Claus — took over an old warehouse, and began the renovation process.
They initially set up a boxing ring, and hung up some heavy bags. They were also planning to install a matted room for jiu-jitsu training, and even a receptionist’s desk. Even without those necessities, that did not prevent them from opening the gym’s doors to the public later that October.
“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.”
In the three and a half years since it has been opened, Bali MMA has become the premier martial arts destination in Indonesia.
Today, Bali MMA is renowned for a roster filled with international talent, including star ONE athletes such as Stefer Rahardian, Gianni Subba, Muhammad Aiman, and Riski Umar. Several martial artists from around the world also visit the gym as part of their training camps, such as Ev Ting.
“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.”
Still, Leone and company are on 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.
In addition to that, they are providing a venue for those talents to showcase their abilities with their Canggu Fight Night series, which are held inside the walls of Bali MMA.
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.”
Leone has some personal goals of his own, too. He is leading by example, and has his eyes on a world title. On Friday, 20 April, he meets Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR in Manila, Philippines.
If he is successful, it will put him closer towards a second opportunity at the ONE Bantamweight World Title.
Manila | 20 April | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onehonor18