The date is Monday, July 7th 2014. At 7:30 AM, Singapore’s corporate workforce are sleepily making their way to work. Meanwhile, Leandro “Brodinho” Issa’s students, colleagues, and teammates from Evolve MMA are gathering around their computer screens, watching in nervous anticipation as their beloved friend and professor makes his way into the UFC Octagon. They know that this won’t be an easy fight for Brodinho.
“At his last fight, he was 50-60%,” said Professor Almiro Barros, Brodinho’s training partner and best friend. Brodinho had lost a tough fight in his UFC debut. Almiro continues,
He told himself to never give up, and that’s why he is fighting again.
Resilience and hard work were two of the weapons that Brodinho armed himself with as he stepped back into the Octagon for the second time. The odds were against him again. His opponent, Jumbieke Tuerxun, was heavily favored to win. Beating the odds, however, is Brodinho’s specialty.
Leandro “Brodinho” Issa always knew that he wanted more out of life. Whenever he is asked about his dreams and achieving his goals, Brodinho replies with a simple phrase,
My dreams are greater than my temptations.
Growing up in Ubatuba, Brazil Brodinho was not given a lot of opportunities to succeed. He was always up to no good, as a result of mixing with the wrong crowd. “Brodinho was a scary guy; he was always getting himself into trouble,” Almiro recalls.
Fortunately for Brodinho, he discovered Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu before he strayed too far down the wrong path. BJJ became his savior, his way off the streets and out of trouble. “I started BJJ when I was 14,” Brodinho explains, “my older brother was the one who got me started.”
BJJ came naturally to Brodinho, and it quickly became the focal point of his life. Brodinho started training everyday, often sleeping on the mats at his academy so that he could maximize his training time. Soon enough, he was joining and winning competitions all around Brazil. BJJ had helped put his life back on track, but he was soon faced with another life changing event.
“I had just started training BJJ, and I was really enjoying my training. One day, my girlfriend told me she was pregnant,” said Brodinho.
And at 15, I became a Dad.
From that moment on, Brodinho decided that it was time to get serious. There was a little boy depending on him now, and he was determined not to let him down.
Brodinho continued competing and after receiving his purple belt, he moved to São Jose dos Campos, a city in the state of São Paulo, to further his training. He continued to train with passion and began to win big competitions around Brazil. In 2004, he finally reached the pinnacle of his BJJ career, winning a gold medal at the Mundials World Championships. In between training stints in São Jose dos Campos, he would return back home to Ubatuba and work odd jobs to support his son.
Brodinho recalls one of his summer jobs in Ubatuba,
I used to deliver coconuts at the beach with my friends.
The fight starts. In the first round, both fighters trade kicks early. Brodinho focuses on attacking Tuerxun’s lead leg with kicks. Tuerxun is looking to counter Brodinho’s kicks, but he is unable to land any punches. In the last 90 seconds, Tuerxun hits Brodinho with a big left hand, dropping him to the canvas. Brodinho is able to recover, but Tuerxun lunges forward again and lands another big punch. Fortunately, the time expires and Brodinho survives the first round.
Being such a young father made Brodinho even more determined to succeed in BJJ and MMA. He simply refused to fail. After receiving his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he made the decision to move to the US with his friend and fellow MMA fighter, Braga Neto, in order to pursue a career in MMA.
Living in the US was not easy for Brodinho. He was forced to make do with sleeping on the mats at his academy while folding newspapers to make money for food. Despite these challenges, Brodinho persevered and continued to chase his dream.
When he was finally ready for his first professional fight in the US, Brodinho once again found himself in a difficult situation. The day before the fight, he had accidentally cut his chin wide open during training. The promoters were ready to call off the fight. Unwilling to let this opportunity pass him by, Brodinho handed his friend a tube of superglue and begged him to glue his chin shut. His friend obliged, the fight went on, and Brodinho won his MMA debut.
Brodinho attacks with leg kicks again, but he is met with a solid right hand from Tuerxun. Unfazed by the punch, Brodinho kicks again, this time causing Tuerxun to buckle. Tuerxun fights back and lands another big punch. Brodinho shoots for a takedown as Tuerxun goes for a jumping knee. They continue to trade blows as the round comes to an end. It was another close round.
In 2009, Brodinho made the life changing decision to move across the world to teach BJJ and fight MMA at Evolve MMA, Asia’s number one martial arts academy. Faced with the difficulties of adjusting to new cultures and language barriers, Brodinho relied on Google Translate and his students to learn English.
“When I taught my first class, it was so hard for me!” Brodinho explained. “My students helped me a lot. Without them, I don’t think I could have lasted an hour.” Every day, Brodinho made an effort to learn new words to add to his vocabulary. “This is an arm, this is a hand…I picked up a few new words everyday,” said Brodinho.
After many years of stuggle, Brodinho’s hard work is finally starting to pay off. Through his work at Evolve MMA, Brodinho has been able to support his family in Brazil, giving them a much more comfortable life than he ever had. He also has a flourishing MMA career.
I love that I can help my family back home. Because of Evolve MMA, I am able to give them the life I have always dreamed of.
Brodinho is now in a supportive environment, surrounded by students and teammates who believe in him and look up to him as a role model. “Brodinho is my idol and my hero. He’s one of the hardest working people I have ever met, and it’s heartwarming to see his hard work pay off in his MMA career,” says Edgar Siew, one of Brodinho’s long time students at Evolve MMA.
Another student of Brodinho’s, Alex Baburamani, says, “Brodinho is all heart. He never gives up, whether it’s training or a real fight. He has overcome a lot to be where he is. He really inspires me to be better.”
The third and final round begins, and both fighters meet in the center of the Octagon. After a scramble, Brodinho lands on top in a dominant position. Brodinho works into the crucifix position as Tuerxun scrambles to escape. Brodinho sinks in a deep guillotine choke and secures the full mount position. Tuerxun escapes from the guillotine choke, but Brodinho maintains his mount and lands some punches. Tuerxun escapes and pulls guard, but again Brodinho manages to get back into mount. This time he secures Tuerxun’s right arm. Brodinho swings his legs over and falls back with the arm. He has the armbar. Tuerxun rolls to escape in a last ditch effort. Brodinho moves with Tuerxun and readjusts his position. The armbar is locked in tight, and Brodinho grimaces as he squeezes tight for the finish. Tuerxun taps. It is all over! Brodinho has won via armbar submission.
The road to Brodinho’s first UFC victory was certainly a long one. After his first UFC loss, many were unsure whether or not he would be able to compete among the world’s best. Brodinho has proven the naysayers wrong once again. He has proven to us all that having heart and steadfast determination will get you to where you want to be.
“I’m definitely very happy and excited to have won my first fight in the UFC, and it is a huge honor to receive the Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night awards. I was shocked to hear that I had won those awards because my main goal was just to win and give the fans a fight to remember. I had been training very hard alongside all of the other World Champions at Evolve MMA, and having my hand raised at the end of the fight was my way of saying thank you to my teammates for having pushed me so hard in training,” said Brodinho about his fight.
Brodinho never stops pushing himself to new limits, and life’s many obstacles never stand in the way of his dreams. He has proven that he is much more than a fighter; he is a hero to everyone at Evolve MMA and to the people of Ubatuba, Brazil.
Back at Evolve MMA, Brodinho watches over his students like a proud father. He peers across the mat as he yells to one of his students,
Never give up and just lay there, keep fighting!
It is safe to say that Leandro “Brodinho” Issa truly practices what he preaches.