In the wide, wide world of professional sports, siblings have always done a great job of garnering attention, and it’s almost always based on individual merit. Two of the most prominent and current examples are the NFL’s Manning brothers or tennis’s Williams sisters. Mixed martial arts is no different.

MMA has a lot of sibling fighters, some retired, some still fighting, and some still up-and-coming. At the highest levels, the sport has such popular brotherly surnames as Nogueira, Diaz, Rua, Miller, Lauzon, Shamrock and, of course, Gracie, as well as some of the lesser-knowns, like Rosholt, Guida, Healy, Ellenberger and Inoue. Needless to say, in the short history of the sport, brothers have not been hard to come by, and the results have been mixed.

The Nogueira brothers are legendary fighters who have both had great successes at the highest levels of the game. Jason Guida is not nearly as prominent a fighter as his younger brother and UFC fan-favorite, Clay. And then there are the Inoue brothers, who were never really able to push through to the highest level of the sport.

One set of brothers is hoping to join that list of successful siblings. Anthony Leone, age 26, and his 23-year-old brother, Andrew, are native New Yorkers who are really coming into their own in the world of professional MMA. The siblings are members of Phuket Top Team in Thailand and cross-train with Team Bombsquad in New York in the final days before their U.S. fights.

Leone (L) attacks with a guillotine (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Anthony is currently back in his homeland getting ready for his Bellator bantamweight tournament semifinal fight, which takes place Wednesday night at Bellator 97. Unfortunately, his bro couldn’t make it back to corner him.

“My brother was supposed to come out here, but Bellator would only pay for continental U.S. tickets,” said Anthony Leone in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “So, he would have had to pay like $1,600 for a ticket, you know?”

It’s something of a predicament for these two young fighters, but it’s something of which they’ve been aware and have considered within their training. Still, it’s got to be tough for Anthony not having his brother in his corner for such a big match.

“Me and my brother, we’re boys,” explained Leone. “We’re both each other’s coaches. We’re both each other’s training partners. We push each other every day.”

So, this begs the question, what happened to get Leone, a high-level BJJ practitioner who grew up on Long Island, overseas to Thailand, training in the home country of Muay Thai?

“I wrestled in high school and never went anywhere else with it after high school, but the competitive drive never left me.” Leone admitted. “I started doing ‘jitsu, then moved to Hawaii and started training at B.J. Penn’s full-time.

“I made my pro debut out there—Rumble on the Rock—and then I had to leave. I went back to New York and beat some great names in New York, and then finally moved to Thailand.”

It turns out that while Anthony was still training in New York in 2010, Andrew had walked away from a college wrestling scholarship to relocate to southeast Asia to focus on his fighting career. Following his first Bellator win in May 2012, Anthony moved overseas to join his brother at PTT.

Leone flew back to the United States in December to beat Zach Makovsky at Bellator 83, but his second split decision in a row was a little disheartening. Leone clearly knows he won those fights. It seems that home-field advantage might have come into play with the judges.

“Those split decisions wouldn’t have been split decisions anywhere else,” Anthony stated. “It was kind of ridiculous that they were.

“Every time you set yourself up for competition, and sometimes the mentality is a little different, like with Ledesma and Makovsky, especially when you’re fighting in their hometown. Sometimes, you hear certain things from athletic commissions that decisions don’t go the right way they should, so that was always on my mind fighting there. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going for the finish, but sometimes when you go for the finish, you put yourself in the position where it might look like you’re not winning the fight. I did not want to put myself in any position, especially in my last fight, where it looked like I may have been losing part of the round, because I knew if I was losing part of the round or even if it just looked like I was losing, [a judge] wouldn’t give me the fight. [The judge] would at least not give me the round, if not the fight. I had to fight safe, man. I’m fighting outside of that commission now, and I’m improving every day.”

Leone’s last two Bellator fights were in New Jersey, the sometimes less-than-friendly neighbor of New York, which he feels played into the judges’ cards. However, all of that won’t exactly change this Wednesday, when Bellator brings its show to the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M. He may be fighting outside of the New Jersey commission, but his opponent will still be a hometown favorite.

Frank Baca, an Albuquerque resident, will be facing off against Leone for a spot in the bantamweight tournament finals. The winner of the tournament will get a shot for the Bellator bantamweight title against the champ, Eduardo Dantas.

Leone (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Baca trains out of FIT NHB under the tutelage of coach Tom Vaughn, who has coached many champions, including former WEC welterweight champ Carlos Condit. Baca is an extremely well-rounded fighter who has been a pro for five years and is a two-time King of the Cage champion. Leone looks to play spoiler in Baca’s Bellator debut on Wednesday night.

“Frank Baca, he’s 13-2, man, and he’s a tough opponent,” admitted Leone. “Obviously, he’s a winner. He knows how to win and he knows how to fight. He’s been in this game for a while, and I’m excited to fight him. I’m very excited to finally be in this tournament and especially being two fights away from a title, a world championship. That’s every person’s goal.”

Baca has six wins by knockout, five by submission, and five by decision. Even though Leone has only won by submission or decision, he’s not too worried about how he matches up to his opponent.

“I feel confident in my abilities as a fighter,” said Leone. “I know that he feels confident also. Like everything, you feel confident and you’re better than your opponent in every way, so of course I feel like that. But it comes down to strategy, game plan, and who wants it more. This is my time and I want this more than anything in my life.”

Although his record and grappling background would lead the layperson to believe Leone would have to take this fight to the ground to get a stoppage, the New Yorker has been training in Thailand and the United States with some awesome Muay Thai coaches, so he is not ruling out a good old-fashioned headhunting match.

“I envision myself knocking Frank Baca out,” explained Leone. “Or, if it does go to the ground, I envision myself submitting him. I do not envision this fight going to a decision. I envision, every night, me finishing Frank Baca.”

After back-to-back split decisions, Leone does not want to leave this one in the hands of the judges. At 26, he has a lot of time left in the sport and there’s no point in being cautious. He knows that and will be looking for a finish, one way or the other. After that, it’s back to PTT, so he can help Andrew get ready to headline the One FC card in September.

Leone would like to thank Primo Bellarosa, Phuket Top Team, Olavo Abreu, Boyd Clarke, Ryan Ciotoli, Evan Velez, his brother Andrew Leone, his mom, Team Bombsquad and his main sponsor, Grips Athletics. Follow Anthony on Twitter: @AnthonyLeoneMMA

Top Photo: Anthony Leone (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator