JUST Fighter: Max Leali

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1. What got you into mma?

Originally I played rugby for Valley Fort when I was younger and liked the contact but felt that the team aspect when competing wasn’t for me. I started learning kickboxing a couple times a week at Impakt with Alvin Cooney. Eventually I met Quinton Arendse who introduced me to MMA and the rest was history. Q left Impakt to open Versus and I followed. Once Versus was open I started training daily after school and very quickly knew that it was what I wanted to do professionally.

2. Which fighters do you look up to and why?

There are a lot of amazing fighters that I’ve admired but I would say other than Quinton and Phil, I always looked up to Forrest Griffin. When I first started MMA I started watching fights non stop and Griffin VS Bonner for the Ultimate Fighter finale as well as Griffin VS Rampage were both two fights that I absolutely loved. His fight with Shogun Rua was also up there.

3. What is your favourite discipline and why?

I would say BJJ would be where I call home, particularly in a gi. I love the strategy and the mental aspect of it all I would say. Q and I break down techniques and figure out how they work for us which has always made me very passionate about technique and have an appreciation for drilling. Though I love BJJ I honestly love Muay Thai as well. And then combining it all for Shooto and MMA.

4. What makes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu different to other forms for you?

From a technical aspect BJJ uses leverage, positioning and technique in or to either sweep or submit your opponent. It’s being comfortable on your back and having the ability to get yourself from what seems to be a disadvantageous position to one more in your favour. It can also be incredibly humbling. Though in that way BJJ isn’t necessarily different from other martial arts. For me BJJ is home but I love Muay Thai, Shooto and MMA as well and have competed professionally in all three. I would say jujitsu just clicks with me more though.

5. How do you see yourself progressing as a fighter?

I think for me the next step is just to get as much experience as possible and keep taking fights. It seems sort of like an obvious answer but I feel that it’s the only real way forward. At the moment I would like to work towards my next belt in BJJ as well as look for more Shooto and MMA fights. Building up my name and representing Hong Kong every step of the way. If I can progress into better known brands then I will for sure! But experience and taking fights will be key to making that happen.

6. You’ve been at the butt of bad decisions in fights before: What is your take on rules, refereeing and local mma scene?

Rules, refereeing and judging really can vary from great to poor. Sometimes in the same event. I’ve fought rules that I don’t care for such as 20 seconds on the ground and for me it was a very frustrating experience despite the fact that I understand the reasoning is for viewership. I find that there are some very good referees but there are also ones that make calls that just don’t make sense. I always breathe a sigh of relief when I see that I have a ref that I know is good. Judging can also be very frustrating as unlike in BJJ there isn’t really a point system to MMA which makes the subjectivity an issue. As well as makes certain decisions questionable. Overall I think Hong Kong has a ways to go. There’s a core group of fighters but it needs to be built upon.

7. What is most surprising thing about mixed martial arts?

I think most people assume that being a martial artist means that you have to be an over aggressive person. If anything my journey has taken away a lot of the aggression that I felt when I was younger. It’s made me learn about myself, understand discipline, balance, control and really calmed me. It also made me more comfortable in my skin.