Leites’ Turn to Try to Catch ‘Spider’

By Lutfi Sariahmed Feb 17, 2009
The constantly spinning wheel of UFC middleweight contenders has stopped on the latest challenger to Anderson Silva’s crown. But instead of names like Yushin Okami, Nathan Marquardt or even Demian Maia, the latest middleweight to get the nod is Nova Uniao product Thales Leites. Leites will meet Silva on April 18 at UFC 97 in Montreal, as long as UFC officials clear up the recent rules controversy in Quebec.

The title fight is a move that even Leites found a bit surprising.

“A little bit,” said Leites recently on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown.” “But actually I was waiting a little bit because I came off five consecutive wins in the UFC. I’m doing my job. Like I said every time, I’m doing my job and I’m waiting for my time to get a title shot. If they invite me to the title shot its because they think I deserve [it]. I think I deserve it. They believe in me. They trust me. And my team too.”

Leites (14-1) also acknowledges the merits of uncrowned top contender Okami (23-4). Okami returned to the Octagon after a ten-month layoff from a broken hand and grinded out a unanimous decision against Dean Lister at UFC 92 in December. Still, the Japanese fighter, a solid 8-1 in the UFC, did not get the call.

“Yeah, he’s another tough guy,” Leites said of Okami. “He deserves it too. But he had some problems. He had an injury or something I don’t know. He’s a tough guy. He deserves it. There are a lot of guys that deserve a title shot too. But this time is my time and I want to focus on it. I want to prove this to everybody.”

Leites, 27, just wrapped up a month-long training session with Arizona Combat Sports and Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor Gustavo Dantas before he headed back to Nova Uniao. Leites is 5-1 in the UFC thanks in no small part to his jiu-jitsu acumen, which has earned him nine submission victories in his career. Leites feels that’s one of the things he does better than the champ.

“I think so,” said Leites. “I compete in jiu-jitsu for a long time. I’ve been training jiu-jitsu for 10 years and competing every time. I think this will be the difference because I feel more comfortable on the ground, but I don’t know. Anything can happen. He already showed that he’s a tough guy and he has a lot of good skills on the ground.”

Leites also gives credit to where Silva’s black belt came from.

“Who gave his black belt was the Nogueira brothers and I know that [the] Nogueira brothers gave his black belt because he really deserves it,” said Leites. “And who am I to say something? He really deserves it. He showed it. He submitted a lot of tough guys. He submitted black belts in MMA and who am I to say something? My job will be training a lot to beat him. He’s one of the best guys in the world. That’s it.”

Silva’s Octagon credentials paint the portrait of a stone-cold killer. Six of his eight victories in the UFC have come by way of his fists and/or knees and they punctuate his 14 (T)KO career wins. But after studying Silva’s last fight against Patrick Cote, a tepid third-round TKO, Leites isn’t afraid to stand and trade.

“I can fight him standing,” said Leites. “I will not be afraid to fight him in the standup game. I will never be afraid. I’ve been training my muay Thai and boxing for five years and I think that I’m ready for any situation. I will be ready for anything. I know he wants to fight me standing to try and knock me out. But anything can happen. Cote was doing a good job with him closing the distance and keeping him down every time and moving forward in front of him. I’m thinking I have to do the same thing.”

The well-traveled Silva (23-4) is undefeated in the UFC and has, at times, looked superhuman dispatching of top-shelf opponents like Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson. But for Leites the game plan is simple -- to take the title from a man many view as unbeatable.

“The most important thing is I trust in me and believe in me,” said Leites, who isn’t spooked by “the Spider” moniker. “He has two arms and two legs like me and like everyone else. If I believe in me and trust me and do my job I can do it. That’s it.”
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