Alessio "Legionarius" Sakara - Through the Eyes of a Gladiator - Exclusive Interview
Posted by David Herbert
Coming off 3 straight wins, including a head kick KO over Joe Vedepo and a one-punch TKO over slugger James Irvin, Alessio Sakara looks to reestablish himself as a dominant force in the UFC's middleweight division and so far he is off to a good start with a 3-1 record since he made the move down from 205.
When Alessio made the move to middleweight, he also made the move to a new home: American Top Team in Coconut Creek, FL. The ATT headquarters is home to many of the sport's biggest names as well as a breeding ground for the new generation of fighters coming up. Sakara has credited his recent success to the Florida based Gladiator academy and it is here that he has been preparing for his UFC 122 battle with Jorge Rivera.
I was able catch up with him before he makes his trip home back to Italy to make the final preparations for fight night in Germany. Alessio talked about having the UFC in Rome, his strong desire to see MMA an Olympic sport and why he wants to fight Michael Bisping.
Dave Herbert: How are you feeling Alessio?
Legionarius: I am good brother; my injury is gone and I am 100% ready to go. I am really looking forward to this fight.
DH: You are preparing for your war with Jorge Rivera at UFC 122. Are you excited to be fighting another striker?
Legionarius: Everybody knows the way I fight. I am a standup fighter and Jorge has very good standup too and he is very tough. This is going to be a very good fight for the fans.
DH: Are you confident you can handle the fight on the ground should it go there?
Legionarius: I train for everything at American Top Team, so if it goes to the floor it's not a problem for me. If he wants to stay standing up then I am very happy because that is my world.
DH: How do you see the fight ending?
Legionarius: I don't want it to go to the judges and I am sure Jorge doesn't want to either, so I plan to knock him out.
DH: Who is your favorite sparring partner at Coconut Creek when you are preparing for a fight?
Legionarius: I work alot with Thiago Silva. He helps me with the striking and Jiu Jitsu. Thiago Alves too. So many good fighters. Jorge Santiago and Hector Lombard are good for hard sparring too.
DH: Did you see Hector's last fight? What did you think of his performance?
Legionarius: Yes, his opponent is a very tough guy with powerful striking. Hector was not able to finish him but he won the fight. It was a good victory. Hector will come back very strong for his next fight, I'm sure.
DH: Where and who do you train with in Italy?
Legionarius: When I am home in Italy I train a lot of Boxing, Greco Roman & conditioning. I do a lot of boxing with Italian Olympic boxers. The gym I train at is called Luto Boxe. It is right across the street from the Colosseum. I come to Miami 2 months before I fight to train with ATT. I am actually opening a big gym in Rome in February.
DH: Do you ever get distracted in Miami while getting ready for a fight? The ladies down there are no joke.
Legionarius: (laughs) There are some very nice girls here, but that does not matter to me, I have my mind on the fight and stay focused for the most part. I can party after I win.
DH: Who would you say is the most dangerous MW outside the UFC right now?
Legionarius: I would say Hector Lombard or maybe Jorge Santiago.
DH: Who is the best fighter in the world right now?
Legionarius: I think Cain Velasquez is the best fighter in the world right now.
DH: Your fight with Chris Leben was your first at 185. Do you feel the weight cut had an effect on your performance?
Legionarius: I was not used to cutting weight like that and as a result I was very dehydrated. No excuses; he beat me fair & square. I have adjusted to it and I am more comfortable at this weight now as I displayed in my last 3 fights.
DH: How do you feel about a rematch with Leben?
Legionarius: That is a fight I want very much. I know I would win the second fight.
DH: Are you going into battle with the beard?
Legionarius: Yes, the beard is my look now. It's the Roman style.
DH: What is your dream fight at 185 lbs?
Legionarius: Right now Michael Bisping. He is a very tough guy; a great fighter. I have no problem with Bisping. It is a good fight because of one thing: Italy Vs England! This is very nice for the European fans. Everyone knows about the intense Italy/England soccer rivalry. When we play them in Rome there is problems and when we go to London to play them, there is always problems. It is good for the fans but good for me too. He is a very tough opponent and that is who I like to fight. I have no problem fighting him in London or Manchester. My whole life I never get to fight at home. I'm always fighting somewhere else; in enemy territory, so I am used to it. It would also be cool to fight him in Rome if the UFC can make the trip to Italy. For now I am focused on Rivera but it is a fight I want very much.
DH: How would you feel about this fight if you win?
Legionarius: I have actually already planned to go to Dana White and UFC to ask for this fight if I win, but again I am focused on Rivera right now. He is a tough opponent and I want to win for my family and for my father.
DH: Dana White has said before that he would like to go to Italy for a show. What do you think about MMA in Italy? What is the possibility that a show in Rome will happen in the future?
Legionarius: In Italy I have so many fans now. Every day I am getting more and more fans. MMA is getting really big in Italy. My fight is in Germany. I have 150 people flying to watch the fight. So close to home. My last 4 fights were in America. I like fighting in the US. I have many Italian-American fans.
DH: You had to pull out of the fight with Nate Marquardt because your father passed. My condolences. Is that a fight you still want?
Legionarius: My father passed but he is still here with me. The UFC came to me with the Marquardt fight, but it was not good for me at the time. I cannot be upset because I know this is normal; this is life. People live, people die. Now I am coming back to fight and I feel more comfortable with it. I picked Rivera for this fight because it didn't happen the first time and have much respect for him; he is a tough guy and a very good fighter. If I win then maybe in the future I will fight Marquardt or Bisping but right now all my focus is on Rivera.
DH: Do you feel a new sort of motivation to win this next for your father?
Legionarius: I definitely feel more motivation to win this fight not just for my father, but for my family too. My oldest son, Leonidas is getting older and he going to be a fighter. He needs to see me win and learn from me.
DH: Leonidas, as in King Leonidas?
Legionarius: Yes, I like to read a lot and I am very into history; especially Greek and Roman history.
DH: You are undefeated in the boxing world. Do you have plans of competing again in the future?
Legionarius: No I am done with boxing. I am an MMA fighter now. I am focusing mainly on that.
DH: What is your take on MMA judging?
Legionarius: You can never rely on the judges. You just have to finish the fight or dominate for 3 or 5 rounds. Some times there are bad calls but this life. They need to adapt the scoring system to accommodate both strikers and wrestlers equally. You get no points for defending takedowns, but the way I think of it MMA is still a very young sport. It evolves more every year. I am not getting any younger, but maybe in 20 years, when my son is a fighter it will all be good. To be honest, I would really love to see MMA become big enough to be accepted as an Olympic sport.
DH: Now there is a subject that does not get enough attention lately. Tell us what you think.
Legionarius: This is my dream; for MMA to a new sport in the Olympics. When you think about, back in the times of the Roman Empire, there was Pancrase which was the same thing as MMA and that was in the Olympics. I would like to see for Dana White to help the sport get there. It makes much sense when you think about it. There are so many great fighters from every different country: Russia, Brazil, USA, Japan, China, Canada, Mexico and of course Italy, but there are so many more.
DH: What is the origin of your nickname, “Legionarius”?
Legionarius: It means "Warrior for Rome". It also has some history with my last name, Sakara.
Now for some fight predictions in the middleweight division.
DH: Anderson Silva Vs Vitor Belfort
Legionarius: I train with both guys in Brazil. I lived there for 5 years and my coaches were the Noguiera brothers. They helped me get my life together and train for my first fight in the UFC. I actually would like to thank them because they helped me so much. Thank you for everything. During my time in Brazil, I trained with both Vitor and Anderson. Both guys are very tough to spar with and both guys are very good at everything; Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, striking. For me this is 50/50. It could go either way. Both guys are very calm and relaxed when they fight; no stress, no pressure. The guy who wins that one will be the one who more focused and calm. I like both of their styles very much. Anderson is a very humble guy. I don't talk much with Vitor but he seems to be the same. It will be a very good fight.
DH: Nate Marquardt Vs Yushin Okami
Legionarius: I think Marquardt is stronger and has more experience but, Okami is a very tough guy with a very nice standup game and he is pretty good on the ground. I will go with Marquardt though.
DH: Robbie Lawler Vs Matt Lindland
Legionarius: I am going with Robbie on that one. He is young, very powerful and a good striker. After his loss to Babalu, he is very hungry.
DH: Babalu is fighting Dan Henderson next at 205. Who do you see winning that?
Legionarius: I am good friends with Babalu. I really like this fight; very good fight. Henderson could possibly take this because he comes in with a good strategy. I think also that Babalu can submit Henderson. Dan has really good hands, but Babalu is an intelligent fighter; maybe he will get it to the mat and go for the submission.
DH: I am a big fan of fighter signature shirts. I can't seem to find one for you. Do you have a t-shirt available?
Legionarius: An Italian Company called Belstaff is coming out with a Legionarius line. It ill be out soon.
DH: In closing, is there anything you want to add?
Legionarius: First my Muay Thai coach and friend, Lorenzo Borgomeo. He has very, very good Muay Thai. I have trained with him my last 4 fights. He really helps me alot with my standup. To my fans, thank you very much for the support. I am going to continue to put on exciting fights for you guys.