At the peak of Roman expansion, the Empire covered different corners of the world, spreading across three continents—a paralleled journey similarly traveled by UFC middleweight and Italian born Alessio “Legionarius” Sakara in search of his own path to greatness through the world of mixed martial arts. It was an occupational decision that even his mother saw was unavoidable and predestined.
“Like my mother always said, ‘you were born with the fist, you were born to fight’,” Sakara proclaimed in a recent Bleacher Report exclusive.
Like a modern day gladiator, Sakara, who is notoriously cloaked by tattoos that resemble the comforts of his home, left his humble abode at the tender age of 17 to pursue his fighting destiny. This decision left the Italian fighter bidding Europe adieu in favor of South America to expand his knowledge of boxing, a sport he had been training since 11-years old.
After spending a year in Colombia, Sakara accumulated a professional boxing record of 8-1, until a close friend and mentor introduced him to the sport of mixed martial arts by showing him a collection of UFC videos.
The cinematic fling quickly snowballed into a full flung love affair that Sakara hasn’t looked back on since. The revelation was immediate and the dream was realized, a seed was planted that has sprouted into a promising career.
“Since seeing the videos, I’ve pursued the dream to become a UFC fighter. MMA is my life and I feel very lucky to have a job that is also my biggest passion,” Sakara said. The fighter added that the hardest part of being a mixed martial artist in the UFC is always being away from his home country Italy.
That’s where all the tattoos come into play. The collage of ink all around his upper-body, a constant reminder of what he has been forced to leave behind, helps Sakara quell the occasional bouts of homesickness.
“I got tattooed the best things of Rome, so I can bring my hometown with me when I’m away for a long time,” explained Legionarius, a family nickname given to him due to their historical ties to the famous Roman Legions in the Egyptian city of Sakara.
While abroad in South America, the hard work started to pay off for the aspiring Zuffa employee. At 20-years old, Sakara got the opportunity of a lifetime while spending some time in Brazil. He was able to train with the Nogueira brothers, whom the Italian has a “particular admiration and respect” for.
“I had the fortune to train with them in Brazil for a couple of years. I was about 20-years old and they taught me a lot of things, not just about MMA.”
Not to mention, it was around this time Sakara got his real break. After hearting through a broken rib in a grueling war with Assuerio Silva at Jungle Fight 3 in Brazil, the UFC started to take notice despite the unanimous decision loss.
Nearly a year after the fight and sporting a healthy record of 9-3, Alessio Sakara made his octagon debut in the light-heavyweight division against journeyman Ron Faircloth at UFC 55. Needless to say, his introduction into the big leagues was a serious test in testicular fortitude.
Unfortunately for Sakara, the last sentence was written in a literal sense—the bout ended as a “no contest” towards the end of the second round after Faircloth kicked Legionarius hard enough in the groin to stop the fight.
Since the unpleasant initiation, Sakara has mustered a 5-4 record in the organization, filled with a turbulent stretch of performances and injuries.
Now on a two-fight winning streak, a victory over Joe Vedepo at UFC Fight Night 15 and a split decision nod over former middleweight contender Thales Leites at UFC 101, Sakara, who has been training at American Top Team for a year, is looking to ride the momentum into his upcoming battle with James “Sandman” Irvin on March 21st at UFC Live: Vera vs. Jones.
“It was about a year ago when I was training in Miami that ATT made me an offer to train at their gym. I definitely think this is one of the best things that has happened in my career,” Sakara said. “Training with some of the best fighters in the business is a great opportunity to improve my own skills.”
In order to enjoy the fruits of his labor and improve his current win streak to three, Sakara (18-7) will have to showcase the progress he has made at ATT against a fellow striker in James Irvin (14-5).
Both men favor the stand-up game, Sakara being a traditional striker with a professional boxing record and Irvin being an explosive fighter who knows a few things about putting people to sleep: UFC Fight Night 13, Houston Alexander, eight seconds, and one superman punch.
It's a testament to Irvin’s power that Sakara will have in the forefront of his mind during their match in the middleweight division—Irvin’s debut at 185 lbs, Sakara’s fourth appearance at this weight.
“Irvin’s got a lot of power. You have to watch out for that straight right hand for sure,” explained Sakara. “My strategy is to definitely make him miss and make him pay.”
The Italian added that while he will be hunting for the knockout against Irvin, he feels like he is the better-rounded fighter with more options for victory. “Wherever the fight goes, I’m ready,” proclaimed Sakara, a Brazilian black belt under Marcus “Conan” Silveira.
Legionarius, Italy’s famed octagon foot soldier, has the opportunity to write his own epic history come Sunday. Will Sakara enter the cage with the spirit of Caesar or will Irvin be the Barbarian to sack his Roman win streak?