Yusup Saadulaev introduced himself to MMA fans in Asia in a big kind of way when he knocked out Hideo Tokoro with a slam at DREAM: Fight for Japan. Coming off that victory meant he was one of the favourites to win the ONE FC Bantamweight Grand Prix but the Russian suffered a surprising loss at the hands of Kevin Belingon.
It was a real blow to a fighter who felt he had a realistic chance of winning the entire tournament and Saadulaev admits that, at the time, it was a major setback.
“It was a pretty big disappointment telling the truth. I wanted to win Grand Prix very much. I was surprised by how strong Kevin came out but I believe he has big chance to win now because he is strong striker and counters take downs pretty good,” he told Fighters.com.
Saadulaev has been eliminated from that competition but he still has a chance to work his way into title contention through the conventional route and has a fantastic opportunity to make a statement about his championship credentials when he takes on Leandro Issa at ONE FC: Kings and Champions‘.
Issa fought for the belt once already and is one of the top fighters in the ONE FC bantamweight division having scored wins over Masakazu Imanari and Soo Chul Kim, the reigning 135 lbs champion. He is also a BJJ black belt who has won gold medals at the nationals and Mundials and Saadulaev knows he is not in for an easy ride when the two men face off on April 5.
“I know he’s strong fighter, and I told my manager Leo Khorolynsky ‘I will fight any fighter ONE FC propose to me’ because I have to challenge my self to get myself back into the sport. Actually I think that is interesting match up. I know he’s great at BJJ and grappling, pretty good at striking but I like to grapple and wrestle so I cant predict what will happen. We will find out in the cage!”
After spending several years training and fighting in the US, earning his BJJ purple belt in the process, Saadulaev is now back in his native Russia and has been training hard in preparation to face Issa.
“For fight against Issa I’m training in Moscow in Lion Fight Club and Academy MMA Russia. I train with such Athletes as Gasan Umalatov, Akhmed Aliev, Ruslan Magomedov, Leonid Gatovsky and others.”
Dagestan, the region in Russia which Saadulaev comes from, is something of a hotbed for MMA with a lot of wrestlers making the transition. The 27-year old is one of the founding members of Dagestan Top Team and thinks it is only a matter of time before more fighters emerge from his hometown.
“Definitely there are lots of talented young athletes in Dagestan. Actually I have sent a few profiles to ONE FC match maker Matt Hume, I hope he will approve those resumes. There are already four fighters from Dagestan fighting in Bellator and three in UFC and all doing very well.”
ONE FC: ‘Kings and Champions’ is taking place at the Singapore Indoor Stadium which is the same venue where Saadulaev fought Belingon last October. He hopes that being familiar with the country and the arena will make life easier this time around and hopes to prove a point to the ONE FC fans by beating Issa.
“I liked fighting for ONE FC in Singapore very much even though I’ve lost. I’m looking forward to fight in front of Asian fans again. I think this time everything will be easier because I am used to it and that ,of course will take some stress away because I will be thinking only about my fight.. Leandro Issa is really a big challenge for me and by winning against him I will prove to myself and the fans that I deserve to be in ONE FC.”
PHOTO CREDIT: DREAM