On September 30, five-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Mikey Musumeci will try to make history by capturing the inaugural ONE flyweight submission grappling world championship.
In the first of three world title fights at ONE on Prime Video 2, the American phenom will square off with rival Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Cleber Sousa – the last man to hand him a loss in his natural weight class.
It's certainly a massive opportunity for Musumeci.
Claiming the first-ever ONE submission grappling world title in front of a primetime North American audience would make him a global superstar – something he tasted after submitting Japanese legend Masakazu Imanari in his promotional debut earlier this year.
That victory over Imanari was one of the most-watched submission grappling matches of all time, and "Darth Rigatoni" quickly realized that joining the world's largest martial arts organization has completely changed his life.
"So, I've won black belt worlds five times in IBJJF, (and) one match in ONE was like 10 times the amount of publicity," the 26-year-old said. "So, it's like, 'Holy crap.'
"That just puts things into perspective, how big ONE is, you know?"
Now, Musumeci will battle an old foe in his big return to action.
In 2017, he faced Sousa in a pair of jiu-jitsu matches in the gi. The Brazilian won the first, while the American bounced back to win the second.
Still, "Darth Rigatoni" is not accustomed to losing, and he vividly remembers his rare setback:
"In my first match with (Sousa), I lost with the ref decision at Pan Ams, and it was a really tough match for me. It was a back-and-forth battle. I kept attacking submissions and stuff."
Musumeci was disappointed not only about the result, but also because he disagreed with the decision. At the same time, he's not one to dwell on defeat.
Instead, the New Jersey native used it as a learning experience and claimed his second IBJJF world championship later that year.
"It helped me a lot, that loss, and I'm grateful for it," he said. "I'm grateful for Cleber. I competed with him the next month, and then I won that match, and I went up to him and I said, 'Hey, thank you for the match the month before. You beat me, then I beat you now, we're both helping each other improve.'
"That's why I compete, win or lose. I'm just working to improve, and he helped me get to another level in my jiu-jitsu."
Musumeci 'excited' to see if Sousa can defend his attacks
After two hard-fought wars with his Brazilian rival, Musumeci knows exactly what to expect in their rubber match – a gritty, mentally unshakeable competitor.
With his sturdy sweep and submission defense, Sousa has posed difficult problems for the offensively minded Musumeci, who is anticipating another stiff test at ONE on Prime Video 2.
He described "Clandestino" as such:
"He's a tough guy, just a really tough, solid guy. Like, he's one of those guys who's really hard to do things to. it doesn't matter what you're doing to him – he's just solid and tough.
"And he doesn't give up, he pushes forward, he pushes the pace, he tries to break you mentally."
But while he has plenty of respect for Sousa, the American is focusing entirely on his own submission-oriented game.
As usual, "Darth Rigatoni" plans to attack relentlessly and constantly hunt for a finish. He believes the Brazilian's response to that offense will ultimately determine the outcome of their world title contest.
Always analytical, Musumeci can't wait to see whether Sousa can deal with his attacking sequences.
"Cleber should give me some really interesting reactions to the moves I'm working on, and we'll see if I have the answer to how he defends the moves I'm working on," he added. "My game is very straightforward. I'm always doing certain sequences, and I'm attacking every second, and my opponent, it's on them. Could they defend what I'm doing? And if they do, it stops my position. And if they don't, I get it.
"So we'll see his answers to what I'm working with, and I'm excited to see if there's something new that will expose something I'm doing wrong."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.