Skip to main content

For better or worse, Leites finds himself on brink of history

Prevailing wisdom suggests, post UFC 97, the 27-year-old Brazilian will be a footnote, the answer to trivia regarding Anderson Silva's record-snapping string of overall victories inside the UFC.

Perpetual wisdom, of course, tells us things don't necessarily happen the way they should, which comes as welcome relief to a competitor like Leites when faced with the improbable.

Falling closer to Dan Henderson than Patrick Cote on Silva's scale of serious challengers, Leites (14-1) needs everything to come together if he expects to dethrone a classy champion with nearly three years at the top of the mixed martial arts world. As stages go in pulling off a successful upset, belief in oneself, almost to the point of being delusional, a sense of timing, as if consciously carving out a sliver of history, and doing everything right in the fight, are mandatory.

Leites appears to have at least two of the three covered.

"I think this is my time," he said Wednesday. "I have a good feeling about this fight."

Whether the challenger's skill and experience are enough to match his expectations against Silva, 34, who is ranked No. 1 in the world at 185 pounds and among the top three pound-for-pound fighters, is at the same time debatable and a logical place to explore during an interview. Having received plenty of press leading up to the pay-per-view main event at the Bell Centre (10 p.m. ET), Leites is more than familiar with questions regarding the pressures of fighting for the belt, and what it means to be a sizeable underdog.

"I say in all the interviews, no one is unbeatable," Leites said of "The Spider," whose 23-4 record with eight straight wins tied Royce Gracie and Jon Fitch for consecutive victories in the Octagon. "That's why I put in my mind I can do it. He has two arms and two legs like everyone else."

Scroll to Continue

SI Recommends

That they happen to be four of the most dangerous appendages in the sport is notable and, for opponents, rarely avoidable. When it comes down to it, there's nothing easy about fighting Silva, particularly as the champion returns to action for the first time since being criticized over failing to decimate Cote last October.

"Anderson is a very complete fighter," Leites said. "He is a jiu-jitsu black belt. Even if I take him down, I'm going to have a hard time with him on the ground."

Fighting out of Nova Uniao, a top Brazilian gym that develops some of the best jiu-jitsu competitors in the world, Leites is rare in his willingness to share his approach in the cage. This will have to be a battle of strengths. The challenger can't strike with Silva, not for an extended period at least, and he knows this.

"My game plan, no matter who I'm fighting, is to use my jiu-jitsu skills to win the fight," Leites said. "It's no different against Anderson."

Since joining the UFC in 2006, Leites has made good on his strengths, scoring three of five wins by way of submission. Yet, a decision loss to MartinKampmann and a difficult split-decision win over Nathan Marquardt, which came as a result of two point deductions against the veteran American, prompted some to wonder whether Leites deserved a shot against Silva.

Not surprisingly, there hasn't been any uncertainty coming from the challenger's supporters, a major source of motivation heading into the fight.

"This makes me feel better," he said of the well-intentioned effort offered by his training partners, family and friends. "It makes me hungrier to train.

Will he be victim No. 9 or the perpetrator of a stunning victory against a great champion? Either way, Leites is assured of being remembered after Saturday night. Such grand consequences aren't the sort he cared to envision upon stepping into jiu-jitsu world, nor were they a goal when he first fought professionally in 2003. But here he is, underdog, attempting to seize the kind of moment that would have people remember him for a long time to come.