August 8, 2009. That was the last time Thales Leites fought in the UFC, a fight which he lost via split decision in a lacklustre fight against Alessio Sakara.
Since that time, much has happened in the UFC and the Middleweight division in which he fights. Chris Weidman, who was then a 2-0 prospect, has burst into the UFC and won the Middleweight Championship. The UFC also now holds regular events in Brazil, something it didn’t do back when Leites was last fighting in the Octagon.
Brazil is where Leites is originally from and where he will be fighting when he makes his long awaited return to the Octagon at UFC 163 this Saturday. As for Weidman, his Middleweight title is what Leites, who previously fought Anderson Silva for the belt in a losing effort, would eventually like a second shot at winning.
The Brazilian has kept himself active on the MMA scene since being cut from the UFC roster. He went 6-1 in his post-UFC fights, with victories over fighters like Jesse Taylor, Jeremy Horn and current UFC Middleweight Tor Troéng.
His only loss came via submission to Matt Horwich in August 2010, but that was avenged 19 months later when Leites beat Horwich – also via submission – in a rematch. That victory, in March last year, was Leites’ last fight and third successive victory.
Despite the long layoff, Leites has been asked back into the UFC, where he is set to do battle in front of his hometown crowd in Rio de Janeiro. He will face British fighter Tom Watson in what looks to be a classic striker vs. grappler match up.
It will not be an easy welcome back to the big time for Leites, with Watson coming off a TKO win over Stanislav Nedkov in February. That was the first defeat ever suffered by the Bulgarian, a testament to the Brit’s strong stand up skills and devastating finishing power.
Leites does have a few small advantages going into Saturday night, however. As previously stated, he will be fighting in his home country of Brazil, and will likely have the crowd cheering him on throughout the entire fight.
He will also go into the fight with more UFC experience, with eight Octagon fights (five wins and three losses) to his resume. For Watson, on the other hand, it will be his third fight in the UFC.
That all means very little in the broader scope of things, however, but the fight will be featured on the main card of UFC 163. The card is set to be a hugely popular one, with the Main Event being a Featherweight title bout between champion & fan favourite Jose Aldo and Chang-Sung Jung.
A decisive win against Watson on the main card of such an event would instantly gain Leites a heap of fans. It would also give Leites a 21-4 MMA record, with six of those being in the UFC.
He will have to avoid the power of Watson and avoid getting coaxed into a stand up battle. If he can pull it off, it will be a sweet welcome back into the UFC for Thales Leites.