Thales Leites talks UFC return: ‘I’m more mature’

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Thales, who has fought Anderson Silva for the middleweight belt, returns to the octagon. Photo: UFC

After four years away from the biggest MMA franchise in the world, Thales Leites will return to the UFC to, once again, tread the path to the top. He, who once challenged Anderson Silva’s middleweight belt, will be making his comeback bout at UFC 163, also known as UFC Rio 4, on Aug. 3 at the HSBC Arena.

While he devoured a white cheese sandwich at Nova União, Thales had a chat with GRACIEMAG about his opponent, Tom Watson, and his long awaited return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Check out the best parts of the conversation:  Almost a year without fighting due to a knee injury, and you’re going straight back to the UFC. How are you doing psychologically?

THALES LEITES: It’s been 10 months since my surgery. I don’t even remember I was injured. I’ve recovered completely. The instinct of protecting my injured knee has gone away. Each day I gain more confidence in putting it out there in the line of fire. It’s brand new again.

And what’s the difference between 2009 Thales and the UFC-returning Thales?

I’m more mature. I have a different mind. I’ve learned to pace my fights better – not more, better. I’m more focused and stronger, both physically and psychologically. I’ve reached 24 bouts in my career and am ready for every fighting situation. And also I’ve got my feet on the ground. I’m realistic. The energy is great and I’ll be fighting in Rio in front of my family and friends. I’m happy.

And about Tom Watson, do you know his game already?

I’ve seen some of his fights. He used to compete in MFC in Canada. He’s a competent striker and has some decent ground moves, but it’s nothing that will make me refrain from fighting stand-up. If we’re standing, then fine, and if we’re on the ground, even better. I’ll sing along to the fight’s tune. But I represent the gentle art, and I’ll always be looking for a submission.

How do you place yourself in such a complicated division as the UFC’s middleweight?

For now my mind is on Tom Watson. I haven’t considered the division as a whole, but what I can say is that it’s way tougher than when I made my UFC debut back in 2006. Now they have a lot of strong fighters, especially since the arrival of the Strikeforce athletes. So I want to slowly but surely make my way in there.

Is there a different kind of pressure surrounding you, considering you once challenged Anderson Silva for his middleweight belt?

If there is, I’m unaware. I don’t care about that. I’m coming back now, but I also have UFC experience to fall back on, having fought eight times between 2006 and 2009. I’ll be all right as far as that.

How do you think your next fight will go?

He will be looking to fight standing and I’ll try to apply my game. Neither one is gonna back down, so I think the fight will not go the distance. That’s how I view my return – step by step, calmly making my way.

UFC 163 – Aldo vs Jung

HSBC Arena, Rio de Janeiro

August 3, 2013

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Thales Leites vs Tom Watson

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