The last time Thales Leites was in London on business, it was a turning point in his career. This Saturday, when he returns to the O2 Arena, he hopes for a similar result when he faces Gegard Mousasi in the UFC FIGHT PASS co-main event.
Back in 2008, Brazil’s Leites was an up and comer still finding his way in the UFC’s middleweight division when he met veteran Nate Marquardt, who was two fights removed from challenging Anderson Silva for the middleweight title. It was the ideal crossroads fight, and after three rounds that saw Marquardt lose two points for illegal strikes, Leites won via split decision.
After one more win over Drew McFedries, Leites was fighting Silva for the 185-pound crown. The Rio de Janeiro native lost a five-round decision to Silva, and after a rollercoaster series of events that saw Leites get cut after a controversial loss to Alessio Sakara, win six of his next seven to get a call back to the UFC, and then go 5-1 in his last six, he’s back at the crossroads against Mousasi.
“This time is a little different because I already have a top ten ranking, like Mousasi, and I lost my last fight, but I won the eight fights before, so sure, if I win against Mousasi, it puts me on the road again.”
With a win, the tenth-ranked Leites gets back in the title race. With a loss, he will likely drop out of the top ten and face a long road back. Yet whatever the scenario is, the 34-year-old isn’t paying too much attention to it.
“To be honest, I don’t think about that,” he said. “My next goal is my next opponent, and I don’t think about where I’m going to be after this fight if I win. Thoughts like that don’t pass through my mind. I’m just thinking about the fight.”
Sounds like the musings of a mature fighter who has seen and done it all in the sport. But as Leites points out, this isn’t something new for him.
“I was always thinking like that,” he said. “We cannot look into the future. I’m going to face a great opponent now and I don’t think about those situations. I have to get past him, and then we’re gonna see. I don’t use my energy and my time thinking things like that. For everything in my life, it’s step by step.”
But if we’re going to play devil’s advocate, would he like to get back one or both of those losses to Saturday night’s main eventers, Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping?
“Of course I would like to fight with them one day,” he said. “Let’s see what happens after this fight if Anderson or Bisping wins, if I win. There are a lot of things involved, but of course I would like to fight with them one day.”
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With that out of the way, let’s get back to Leites, who has been a completely different fighter during his second stint in the UFC, with a much improved striking attack complementing his black belt level jiu-jitsu game. If you want to use the fine wine analogy, that’s accurate for the Brazilian standout.
“It’s weird, but it’s real for me,” he said. “I’m older, but I’m stronger mentally and physically – way better than before. My first time in the UFC, I was younger, but I didn’t train as well as I train now, I didn’t think as well and I didn’t have the strong mind that I have now. So I’m older, but I’m better in all the situations. And I think this is great. If you pay attention to the divisions, most of the champions are more than 30 years old. Before, the champions like St-Pierre and BJ were younger. Now, if you see my division, the top five are all more than 30.”
In other words, Leites might be right on time to start clearing some room in his house for a world championship belt. That’s exciting stuff, and he’s not letting any of that excitement pass him by.
“This is very nice for me,” he said. “I’m enjoying it more than when I was younger. This is my job, I love what I do, and it’s hard for most people to live and make money doing what you love to do. So I’m working and living my dream.”