Andrew Leone swapped the United States for Bali, and he hasn’t looked back since.
The 27-year-old bantamweight contender co-owns Bali MMA, which over the years has grown into the most prominent gym in Indonesia.
It’s given Leone a dream lifestyle, as he mixes training with surfing and relaxing in the idyllic surroundings Bali offers.
“I love the Bali lifestyle,” he told ONE Championship.
“I have everything here: world-class training, the waves, and a team.”
It’s a far cry from his previous life on Long Island and his collegiate days in Missouri. But his life changed when he decided to leave behind his college life and move to Bangkok.
While in Thailand, Leone taught English to help make ends meet, while also training martial arts and competing in the cage. Then, in 2011, he was offered the opportunity to coach the Singapore National Wrestling team and become part of the wrestling program at Juggernaut Fight Club.
He went on to join the renowned Phuket Top Team as their wrestling coach, where he teamed up with his brother Anthony Leone.
Then he received a life-changing offer from owner of Jakarta Muay Thai and MMA Steven Suryadinata.
“He contacted myself, and my brother Anthony. He was looking to add a jiu-jitsu program to his gym’s schedule,” Leone explained.
“Eventually, we were offered a partnership in the gym. Jakarta Muay Thai and MMA was our first foot in the door.”
The second foot followed after another even more jaw-dropping offer. Suryadinata took the Leone brothers to Bali and floated the idea of opening a gym on the island.
“We saw an opportunity here,” he explained.
“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.”
As well as a golden opportunity to run a gym in a fantastic location, the chance to launch Bali MMA also allowed the two brothers to pursue their other sporting passion – surfing.
“Since we were very young, we kept wrestling and surfing together,” Leone explained.
“When Steve brought us to Bali, we saw that miles away from our native Long Island, such a place existed. So we stayed.”
The gym opened its doors in October 2014 with rudimentary facilities, but the gym soon grew as soon as people started coming through the door.
“We used to train with these Australian guys in Phuket Top Team,” said Leone.
“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.”
The gym has been open for three and a half years and the facility has grown to become the most renowned and respected gym in Indonesia, with Leone playing a leading role inside and outside the cage.
The team boasts a clutch of top-class talent, including ONE Championship stars Stefer Rahardian, Gianni Subba, Muhammad Aiman and Riski Umar, and is also a regular stopping point for other athletes looking to mix things up during their training camp.
“Around Southeast Asia, Thailand was known as a better country for doing martial arts training,” said Leone.
“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.”
As well as his own personal success inside the cage, Leone says the true indicator of success is the level of local talent coming out of the gym.
“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 explained.
“The gym organises 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.”
There’s no better advertisement for Bali MMA than the co-owner competing at the highest level, and Leone will do just that when he returns to action at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR on Friday, 20 April.
He’ll take on Filipino striker Kevin Belingon in a bantamweight bout with world championship implications.
If Leone can win his way into a title shot, then win it, the sight of a ONE Championship belt hanging in the Bali MMA gym would undoubtedly see record numbers of aspiring champions coming through Leone’s doors in the years to come.