Alessio Sakara in the midst of a potential late-career renaissance stands before a significant hurdle, one that few believe he can clear.
The American Top Team-trained Italian will challenge Rafael Carvalho for the Bellator MMA middleweight championship in the Bellator 190 main event on Saturday at the Nelson Mandela Forum in Florence, Italy. Sakara has rattled off three consecutive victories, all of them finishes. The 36-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt last competed at Bellator 168 on Dec. 10, when he brought down fellow Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Joey Beltran with first-round punches and improved to 2-0 as a member of the Bellator MMA roster. Sakara rose to global prominence during a 15-fight stint in the UFC that saw him deliver wins over Elvis Sinosic, Victor Valimaki, James Lee, Joe Vedepo, Thales Leites and James Irvin.
As the man they call “Legionarius” barrels toward his five-round showdown with Carvalho, here are five things you might not know about him:
1. He piles up the frequent-flyer miles.
Sakara has competed in nine different countries as professional mixed martial artist. They are Italy, Austria, England, Canada, Sweden, the United States, Brazil, South Korea and Russia. Those appearances have taken place under the auspices of 14 organizations: Bellator MMA, Final Fight Championship, the UFC, King of the Ring, Ring Fight, Jungle Fight, Real Fight, World X-Impact Federation, Meca World Vale Tudo, Martial Arts Day, La Resa Dei Conti, M-1 Global, Cage Warriors Fighting Championship and Fight Night.
2. He prefers to knock off early whenever possible.
Twelve of Sakara’s 19 professional victories have concluded inside one round. They include 13-, 20-, 21-, 30-, 72-, 80-, 87-, 90- and 92-second finishes.
3. MMA was not his only combat sports pursuit.
Sakara compiled an 8-1 record as a professional boxer between Aug. 30, 2004 and May 9, 2009, recording half a dozen wins by knockout or technical knockout.
4. Home cooking suits him well.
Sakara has never tasted defeat in his home country, winning all eight of his fights in Italy. Those victories have come against Beltran, Brian Rogers, Frank Amaugou, Tihamer Brunner, Damien Riccio, David Mortelette, Mastioli Mastioli and Paolo Di Clementi.
5. He could soon join some exclusive company.
With a win over the once-beaten Carvalho, Sakara can become the fifth middleweight champion in Bellator history. Carvalho, Brandon Halsey, Alexander Shlemenko and American Top Team stablemate Hector Lombard will have preceded him.