Thailand is a long way from Long Island, but Andrew Leone calls both locales home.

The 23-year-old grew up in New York. But it was his brother, Anthony, who sparked a fire in Andrew that would eventually lead him to Thailand.

“My brother got me into this sport,” Andrew told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “We both wrestled and from there I just followed him into MMA.”

Anthony, having competed under the WEC, Strikeforce and Bellator banners, may be the more well-known of the brothers in the eyes of MMA fans, but Andrew is accomplished in his own right. In high school, he earned two-time All-State honors, then parlayed that into a wrestling scholarship with Missouri Valley College.

But it wasn’t long before his interest in MMA pulled him away from the university life and took him halfway around the world and eventually led to his current spot as a coach and fighter with Phuket Top Team in Thailand. This time, his older brother followed him. They are joined at the camp by a diverse group of athletes that challenge them in training on a daily basis.

“So many guys coming through PTT, it’s crazy,” Leone explained. “The Russian Bellator/M-1/fight nights guys like Rasul Mirzaev, Muslim Salikhov, Marif Piraev, Salim [Daudov], [Magomed] Magomedov and many more. Also, guys [like] Dave ‘Hollywood’ Hulett, Brad Terry, Randall Ray and Tommy Yang. Honestly, so much talent come through, it’s a new challenge every day.”

Asia is more than a training ground for the young prospect. It is also the setting where all of his professional fights have taken place. Leone has competed for multiple Asian promotions, with South Korea’s Road FC ranking as the most notable.

“The vibe is just awesome,” Leone said. “The scene is new and the people are excited. Korea so far was the best crowd. They were super supportive and really there to enjoy themselves. It’s an honor to fight in Asia.”

Leone has already seen action against some talented fighters in his brief career. On two occasions, he has locked horns with current UFC fighter Kyung Ho Kang. In their first meeting, Leone emerged with a decision win, but in their second fight, Kang submitted Leone via a second-round rear-naked choke.

“Honestly, Kang is a beast,” Leone said. “He is also a huge bantamweight. I weighed in at 61.5 kilograms and on fight night was 62 kilograms. I think Kang likely got himself up to 70 kilograms by fight time. No excuses at all, as he is a super tough and skilled guy. However, I am now only taking fights in my weight division at flyweight.”

Leone’s next fight will be his most significant yet. This weekend at ONE Fighting Championship 9, Leone travels to the Philippines to square off with Team Lakay product Geje Eustaquio.

“He is a killer,” Leone said, assessing his upcoming opponent. “He’s tough, he’s talented and he has Team Lakay behind him. Those guys train in Baguio in the mountains and they always come 100 percent fit. I’m stoked to be fighting him.”

Leone’s ONE FC debut has actually been a long time coming. He was signed by the promotion in 2011, but has fought elsewhere while waiting for his opportunity to compete with the premier Asian organization. Now that time is finally here and, as Leone admits, it won’t be an easy task.

Eustaquio has four wins, including two via submission, under his belt in five outings. He trains with the likes of Eduard Folayang and ONE FC featherweight champion Honorio Banario. The prospect’s only career loss came in a split decision. What does that say about Eustaquio as a fighter?

“It means we both like to fight,” Leone said. “I go in looking to finish. I’m not trying to grind out a decision.”

And neither is Eustaquio. With a submission via strikes, a TKO and a triangle choke among his four victories, the Filipino fighter has a killer instinct that makes him a constant threat. It’s difficult to determine where he is most likely to attack Leone.

“Anything can happen,” Leone said. “My striking is crisp and I am working hard everyday at Phuket Top Team. That said, I still think my jiu-jitsu is something he should be worried about.”

And should Leone win this weekend, what comes next for the rising prospect?

“If I beat Geje, I think a flyweight title shot is definitely called for,” Leone suggested.

A shot at the gold may not be too far away for the young wrestler. And if Leone continues his winning ways, it may not be long before even bigger promotions come calling. Or perhaps they already have.

“I have already been offered a Bellator contract for flyweight,” Leone revealed. “We have to honor the ONE FC contract first and foremost. However, for sure a UFC or Bellator deal as a flyweight is a huge thing.”

From his beginnings alongside his brother on the wrestling mats in New York, Leone has come a long way. He’s done so by traveling many miles, but he’s also done so in ways that reach beyond the measure of mere distance. He’s now fighting on the biggest stage Asia has to offer and is well on his way to entertaining even bigger opportunities on an international scale.

New York and Thailand may be thousands of miles apart, but for Leone, they have come together to provide him with everything he needs to turn his championship ambitions into a reality.

Photo: Andrew Leone (R) (The Fight Nation)