The Duke heads to conquer Germany: an interview with Luca Iovine, ready for his ACB debut
November 25th will be a particularly intense day for the Italian MMA. Luca “Duke” Iovine (11-1 MMA, 0-0 ACB) contribute to that by debuting in the Russian promotion ACB. As we have anticipated in the past, the #1 bantamweight in Italy will move from Italy headed towards Stuttgart, home of ACB 75, on which he will challenge Russia’s own Shamil Shakhbulatov (8-1 MMA, 8-1 ACB), Fight Club Berkut’s member.
In anticipation of this important crossroad in his career, Iovine has given us some time to talk about said match and other topics related to the Italian scene.
MMA Today: How are you familiar with ACB? Have you ever seen any of its events in the past and, if so, which athletes impressed you the most (not just in your weight class)?
Luca Iovine: I have come to know ACB through the Internet, it is one of the most important promotions in the world after UFC and Bellator. It is a circuit with many renowned athletes (former UFC and Bellator fighters) that has exploded in recent years and organizes events around the world (Europe, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Dubai). I have seen at some of its events: there is no one who impressed me in a particular way, but all the weight classes going down from lightweight are the most spectacular ones and those which gather many well-prepared athletes.
MT: Did you sign a multi-fight deal contract? If so, is it an exclusive contract?
LI: I signed a contract for a single match for now… let’s just take one step at a time! My manager has already laid the foundations for other matches in ACB but the channels are already open with other top-level international promotions, we already have other interesting proposals.
MT: While analysing your next opponent, Shamil Shakhbulatov, what are his main strengths that you’ve found out? What, on the other hand, are the major holes in his game that you could exploit?
LI: He’s taller than me, I give up to him a few inches, he’s also a southpaw. He works mainly in the standing department, surely I have to be careful of his long arms and legs. I will try to work on my distance using the opposite guard, I’m working on it. I will try to put on a show!
MT: Have you introduced anything new in your training camp? What is your training program for ACB 75?
LI: Nothing new, myself and my staff (head coach Ivan Mapelli, Filippo Leone as manager and Matteo Capodaglio for the nutrition part) have done a great job in the last two years. We are trying to highlight my potential and minimize the gaps! In addition to training with my team, the Free Combat Academy, I also regularly have the opportunity to train with other agonists in the collegial camps, organized by ADCC Shooto Italia, for the athletes of said circuit and Iron Lions management, which I’m a part of. A good initiative that allows me to train for free and with other good athletes. Being part of an organized group is a great way to continue my growth path and to prepare my matches: in the circuit, the teams work together and in the collegials the various agonists find themselves training and helping each other for 2 or 3 days!
MT: In the past, you have put together many different submissions hold in order to win. However, during your last matches, you have succeeded by TKO (2 times out of 3 even at the first round). Was it a change to a striking-based style or was it a choice based on your opponents?
LI: A little bit of both: I have good grappling skills that have led me to be the National ADCC Italian Champion for the last three years. Recently, though, we have decided to improve the striking part in order to complete my technical baggage and have several tactical options to use against the various opponents who stand before me, strikers or grapplers they may be! A deliberate and planned “conversion”, the good work done with my coach led me to get 3 wins for TKO in the last 3 matches.
MT: Signing with the UFC is your main career goal? Or does competing in a top promotion like ACB approach your idea of “making it”?
LI: In my opinion, you’ve never truly “made it”, not even in the UFC! ACB is a starting point and my goal is to get as high as possible! I’m going against Shakhbulatov to win, this is definitely a launching pad for my career towards the best MMA promotions and is an opportunity not to waste, you have to play it for the best! I have a dream, a goal and I will always give everything, against anyone, to reach it!
MT: In recent times, many Italian athletes are making a “big leap” towards the outside world. How do you evaluate the Italian movement at this time?
LI: It is a very positive thing, if we are finally getting considered abroad too, obviously we are evolving. This shows that, by still staying in Italy, there can be great athletes. Gyms are becoming more and more specialized, people are starting to work in the right way and this means results! I also see young guys and new lads who are growing, with the will and the potential to do well!
Thanks to the collaboration with the master Filippo Leone, the guys on my team have the opportunity to fight with continuity and grow gradually from the first experiences in the grappling up to the MMA amateur matches. And then, once they have had a good deal of experience, become a pro, having the chance to fight in Italy and abroad. Virtually the same path I did! I am also part of a great school: the Free Combat Academy of Romano di Lombardia in Bergamo, headed by master Ivan Mapelli. Up there agonists and practitioners have always done well, both in MMA and in Muay Thai and K1. One of these is my friend and teammate Alex Avogadro, who has just won the silver medal at the prestigious IFMA Muay Thai European Championship. Fortunately I’ve seen a nice movement and new interesting athletes, especially in the last two years. Here in Italy the life of an MMA professional athlete is by no means simple: most of us have to work in order to fund our careers, unlike what happens in other countries where athletes often only engage in sports, with become their main line of work. This is perhaps one of the reasons why, in Italy, many young people start out, but then they are lost on the road. However, in recent years I’ve seen solid growth and many improvements: athletes have grown up, there are more experienced instructors and masters, there are more events and circuits to fight in and with the Internet MMA is entering many homes. People are interested, start to inquire, see and travel. I expect a strong growth! Younger athletes are advised to choose well where to train and whom to trust in order to grow and fight: around the industry there are still too many charlatans and sometimes certain choices then you make affect your enire life and can also hurt your career.
MT: You’re the #1 bantamweight in Italy according to MMA Ranking Italia, leaving behind legends of the Italian MMA like Cristian Binda. How does this make you feel? What do you want to say those who think the top positions should be reversed?
LI: Sincerely, the rankings do not matter to me: today you’re in the lead, tomorrow you’re nor…it’s part of the game! Of course, I like to be on the top, I wouldn’t say the opposite. In fact, I can say that I did not come up to this point only by talking, instead by accepting challenges and matches without ever pulling back, without letting it go to my head when I win and without knocking myself when I lose! What do I want to say to those who do not agree with the positions? Everyone has his own opinion that I respect, but it is so easy to criticize behind a keyboard… I like facts rather thank words or videos: a way to ‘check’ the ranking is out there! I’m ready.
MT: It is not a secret that you and Binda are the undisputed contenders for the Venator belt held by the latter. Equally well-known are the difficulties of the current champion in carving enough time to prepare for the long-awaited challenge between yourselves. Do you believe that in the near future Binda vs. Iovine will finally become reality? What sensations did you have in this regard in recent months?
LI: They’re talking to me and writing about this match since July… think about the fact that there was a part of the fanbase that thought I wasn’t ready for a Venator-type event, painting me like a fake athlete! I don’t speak a lot and I prefer to let the facts talk, when I entered the cage for my debut at the Venator I had only one thing in my head: today I present to you Luca Iovine! I respect all my opponents, it would be a pleasure to fight with Binda: I’m ready… Meanwhile, the offers are not lacking and, at the moment, I’m focused on ACB 75 and my next opponent!
MT: In conclusion, a curiosity: where does your nickname come from?
LI: It’s the nickname I’ve been given since I was a kid by my friends! It comes from the protagonist of one of my first Playstation games: Duke Nukem, a first-person shooter… always on topic!