Leandro “Brodinho” Issa has always relied on the support of his family, and it has brought him further in his life than anything else ever could.
Hailing from Ubatuba on Brazil’s southeast coast, Issa was brought up by his mother, with his older brother acting as a father figure. That was not his only impact on a young Leandro, as his brother also set him on the path of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and later did everything he could to keep him on it.
When he followed his older sibling’s lead into “the gentle art” at the age of 14, it was clear from the early stages that he had a natural talent for it.
“After six months, I entered my first tournament, and I did well,” Issa recalls. “That motivated me even more. I had a lot of friends training with me, so we pushed each other, and I really liked the sport.”
However, it could have been over before it even really began, as the Brazilian found himself a father at just 15, and saddled with more responsibility than just himself. He could very easily be looking back now and wondering “what if”, had it not been for his family coming to his aid.
“I thought many times about quitting BJJ to find a regular job, but I was always lucky to have my family around me to push me and support me, saying ‘No, no, no you have talent! Keep going!’ They helped me to take care of my son, and they really supported me.”
Without being able to rely on them, things almost certainly would not be the way they are now. “Brodinho” won the BJJ World Championship in 2004, followed it up with a national championship just a year later, and in 2009, became a full-time coach at the world-renowned Evolve MMA.
At the same time, he successfully transitioned into mixed martial arts, and after a terrific start to his professional career, started competing for ONE Championship in a bustling bantamweight division. Today, Issa sports an impressive 13-6 professional record, and has 10 victories inside the distance.
All this was only made possible by the support of his family as he moved halfway around the world – first Rio De Janeiro and then Singapore – to get the training he needed. Now with a great career and financial comfort, their good faith has been rewarded.
After spending the past four years competing in the North American scene, the third-degree BJJ black belt has returned to ONE Championship. The submission specialist brings a 3-1 promotional record with him, dating back to the inaugural ONE show in 2011. In fact, his opening bout was the first-ever in promotional history.
Issa’s big ONE return will take place at ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS on Saturday, 5 August, at the Cotai Arena in Macao. He meets Finland’s Toni “Dynamite” Tauru at the stacked event.
"It is great to be back,” he says. “I am really excited for this fight and I have been training a lot here at Evolve MMA. I have been training with world champions, getting ready for my comeback.
“He (Tauru) is a great fighter. He has fought a few times in ONE Championship, and he looks like he likes the ground game too, so I think it is going to be a great fight for me.”
Although Issa enjoyed great success in his previous ONE campaign, the ultimate prize eluded his grasp – the ONE Bantamweight World Title. That makes him all the more determined to make the most of his opportunity this time around.
"I had the opportunity last time, but it did not go my way. I am back, I work hard every day, so I really want to have the opportunity again,” he says. "Becoming the ONE Bantamweight World Champion is my goal and my dream. That is why I work really hard to make my dream come true.”
With 17 of their combined 24 victories coming by way of submission, the bout between Issa and Tauru could be a grappling masterclass for ONE fans around the world.
In order to start working his way back up the pecking order, however, Issa will need to be at his best, and only then can he move forward in his quest for gold.
No matter what happens, and although the event will be held on the opposite side of the world, Issa knows his family back in Brazil will be glued to their television sets.
“They watch all my fights,” Issa says. “Even my 80-year-old grandmother.”