For Andrew Leone, MMA fighter, coming home is a real trip
Andrew Leone booked himself a nice island-hopping getaway for later this month.
The trip begins in Malaysia, where on March 14, he'll get into a fight a few hours before boarding a plane. From there, it's off to Japan, where, if he's lucky, there will be time and the requisite facilities for him to shower off the sweat and perhaps some dried blood from his ONE FC mixed martial arts fight.
Then, it's back on the plane for roughly 14 hours en route to Manhattan where he will then hop aboard a train to the fourth and final island -- Long Island -- for his sister Olivia's Sweet 16 party.
"Doesn't sound like a big deal, right? My mom's been planning this for like 16 years," Leone said. "I'll take a shower in the Japan airport, jump back on the second flight, get back to New York smelling good."
That's how Leone, a Center Moriches native, makes the return trip. How he made it to Southeast Asia in the first place, well, that's another multi-stop trip. He began at Missouri Valley College in 2008 on a partial wrestling scholarship. After a year and a half there, he wanted to be elsewhere. He went a little farther West - Bangkok, Thailand.
"All I can remember from that memory was the smell," Leone said. "The smell was so different. I walked out of my hotel room, I just couldn't believe it. I was really scared for the first two weeks."
Leone. 24, lived in Bangkok for two years. He didn't speak Thai but found a job teaching English classes.
It was a lesson in perseverance and personal growth, two traits found inside the cage when the gate locks and it's you and an opponent who wants to smash you in the face.
"Those first two weeks, moving to Bangkok, I doubted everything," Leone said. "I was about to get a ticket and come back home."
Leone went to Singapore for about a year and a half where he coached wrestling. He has made a home for himself now in Phuket, Thailand, and with ONE FC, Asia's largest mixed martial arts promotion. Leone recently extended his contract for another two years. In Phuket with him is his older brother, Anthony, who fights for the Bellator bantamweight title Friday.
The Leone brothers live next door to each other and they train together. In other words, they fight each other. Still.
"As extreme fighters as both my boys are, is as extreme as they were growing up," said their mother, Shimane Devlin. "I called them Nitro and Glycerin. When they got together, they could not be by each other, they would annoy the heck out of each other."
Andrew Leone (6-2) will fight someone else this time -- Shinichi Kojima in a flyweight bout on ONE FC's War of Nations card in Kuala Lampur. That bout was originally scheduled for last September, but Leone injured his knee.
He said he suffered a grade 2 tear of both the PCL and the ACL. Both doctors he visited in New York said no surgery was required. Leone rehabbed for close to eight weeks on Long Island, a battle both physically and mentally.
"You don't want to push it because you feel like it's at its limits, and pushing through that in the beginning was tough for me," Leone said. "I didn't want to bend it this way or bend it that way."
That was six months ago. Now?
"I never realized how tough it was just getting back to that level of competition," Leone added. "I feel like I'm getting back there. It feels good to be competing with high level guys now and coming out on top some times instead of getting my face punched all the time."