Title fights are viewed as the pinnacle of the sport, and the peak of the career for many athletes fighting in MMA today. But this Saturday night when ThalesLeites steps into the Octagon, he will not only be fighting for the UFC middleweight championship; he will be competing against the man many argue is the best fighter on the planet today in Anderson Silva.
Leites understands the pressures of going into a match against a fighter the caliber of Silva, but he truly believes this is the chance of a lifetime that he's been waiting for.
"The fight of my life. It's everything I was waiting for, for a long time," Leites told MMAWeekly.com in an exclusive interview. "Since my beginning when I started training MMA, I was thinking about this day."
The prospect of fighting Silva can be intimidating when you look at the long list of great competitors he's left in the wake of his destruction, but while Leites respects Silva, he does not fear him.
"I don't know how the other fighters feel. I just know that Anderson, he is one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world, and I have a lot of respect for him. But I trust me, and my team trusts me. I want to fight the best fighters, and I will be out there to do my best," Leites said.
"He can beat me, and I can beat him, but I will be there 100 percent and be ready for everything."
Picking the right strategy going into a title fight can be crucial for success, and it's no secret that the champion is one of the most dangerous fighters ever when it comes to striking. His fellow Brazilian understands what Silva brings to the fight, but he's confident that the work he's doing will pay off.
"For this fight I'm doing special training for the stand-up and takedowns, you know to be ready for everything," commented Leites. "Anderson is one of the most complete fighters. He's an excellent stand-up fighter, he knows takedowns, and he knows the ground game too. That's why I have to be ready for everything."
Understanding that his biggest advantage could be on the ground because of his extensive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background, Leites is quick to point out that anything can, and sometimes does happen.
"I've been training all my life for jiu-jitsu, I think there's my big chance on the ground, but anything can happen," he stated. "When (Gabriel) Gonzaga fought against (Mirko) Cro Cop, nobody expected he could knock him out. I'm not talking like it could happen with me that way, but nobody knows. I will be ready to fight stand-up, I will be there to fight in any situation."
To prepare for this fight, Leites worked with his home camp in Brazil, but also made a special trip to the United States to work with the team at Arizona Combat Sports to help him get ready for this monumental fight.
"It's excellent training here," Leites said about Arizona Combat Sports. "It's my fourth time here. I like training with the guys, very good sparring; they have excellent Thai guys. They have excellent wrestling guys like (Ryan) Bader and C.B. (Dollaway) and there is a teacher here, (Aaron) Simpson, he helps me a lot, showing me some good positions to do takedowns. It makes me grow my wrestling. I'm feeling great."
With the training all but over, and fight time just days away, what would Leites say when asked what it would mean to be the UFC middleweight champion?
"I don't want to think about it now. I prefer just to think about before the fight, and the fight time. Later is later for me. I just want to focus 100 percent to my fight," he said. "The most important fight of my life and I don't want to think about later, how this can change my life. My focus is just to the fight."