Leo Leite started his martial arts career in judo, where he is a black-belt. He was the judoka who most successfully made the transition to BJJ. A former athlete in Brazil’s national judo team, Leite migrated to the gentle art and won two world titles out of seven finals fought. Known for his takedown game and for the efficiency of his guard passes and clock choke, he’s now in his third successful martial arts career, in MMA — he holds two belts at Legacy FC.
In an interview with Graciemag, the black-belt under Gigi Paiva remembered his first title, at the 1999 Worlds, when he faced none other than Zé Mário Sperry in the final.
“A curiosity from the 1999 Worlds is that I was already signed up as a brown-belt. I was going to fight at brown belt. 2 weeks prior I was still a brown-belt. I had never fought a Jiu-Jitsu world championship. Not even as a blue- or brown-belt. And one week prior, Gigi Paiva gave me the black belt. Then the Alliance heads told Gigi Paiva, ‘You’re crazy. Let him fight at brown to score points at weight and absolute at brown. It’s important for us to get points in the end and win the teams’ competition.’ Then Gigi said, ‘No. Leave the boy as a black-belt.'”
Leite went on to compare modern BJJ to the one practiced when he started out.
“In the old days we used to like watching the lightweight fights. They were more dynamic fights that had more positions in them. The game would alternate more. And today you take the lightweight fights, they close the 50/50 guard, staying there for 10 minutes. A boring, monotonous fight that no one likes to watch. 10 minutes of that. And today you take a fight between Buchecha and Rodolfo Vieira; they jump to one side and to the other, they try to finish it off all the time. So I think that’s changed a bit; heavyweight has become more dynamic than lightweight.”
In the interview, which you can watch entirely in the video, Leite also offered advice to new BJJ competitors and taught the guard pass that gave him his first world championship.