Flashback Friday: The KO That Changed Leandro Ataides’ Career
Despite being a multiple-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion, Leandro “Wolf” Ataides has earned a reputation as a potent knockout artist in ONE Championship.
The São Paulo, Brazil native credits one fateful night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for setting him on that path.
He made his promotional debut against Bryan Rafiq at ONE: WARRIOR SPIRIT on 15 November 2013, and rose to the occasion in spectacular fashion.
Ataides pushed aside his pre-bout jitters and concentrated on giving his best performance for the fans at the Putra Indoor Stadium (which was later rechristened the Axiata Arena).
“When I was in the arena, I was so nervous that I had to keep going to the bathroom all the time. I couldn’t control my body,” the 33-year-old middleweight says with a chuckle.
“I felt like it was a big responsibility. It was my first time fighting outside of Brazil, but I was excited. I knew I had to do my job and perform for the fans.”
The step-up in class brought out the best in Ataides, and he showed exactly what he had been working so hard on during his training camp at Evolve MMA.
Although the global fanbase might have expected to see his world-class grappling skills, the heavy-handed Brazilian shocked them with a spectacular first-round knockout instead.
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After dazing his French opponent with an overhand right to the ear, Ataides connected with a right cross to the temple, and then he finished the job with a cross to the jaw.
Rafiq dropped face-first into the canvas, prompting referee Yuji Shimada to jump in and call a stop to the middleweight contest at 4:14 of the opening stanza. Fans were not the only individuals in the stadium who were surprised that night.
“I was surprised, too,” the Brazilian star jokes.
“I had only been training hard in Muay Thai for one year, but I tried my best to become a striker after 25 years of BJJ. I had a coach at Evolve who was working with me a lot and teaching me the striking skills, so I thought in the match to try it.
“I just remember the punch — I tried to hit him like my coach said to me. I was shocked because I didn’t expect him to fall that way, then I looked to the referee like, ‘I guess you should stop the fight!’”
Ataides exercised restraint after he had separated Rafiq from his senses, and he immediately knew he did not have to follow up with any other shots.
“It was over, I didn’t need to hit him anymore. I just have to do my job. That way, he goes home happy and safe, and I go home happy and safe,” he continues.
“I became a BJJ guy to control myself because I was always fighting in school, and martial arts taught me that — to give respect, and get respect.”
Even though that highlight-reel moment happened six and a half years ago, “Wolf” still looks back on that victory with fondness.
To him, it is the day he truly felt like a mixed martial artist. With knockout power and improved striking to round out his magnificent ground game, Ataides realized he could reach the top of the sport.
“I cannot tell you how happy I was — just super, super happy — because it was my first [standing] KO in my career,” the Brazilian adds.
“For me, personally, I think it was the best fight of my career. Everybody expected a BJJ game, but I worked hard on my striking skills and, in one year, I proved to myself I could do that.
“I saw a lot of people doing knockouts, but they had a long time in striking. It takes a lot of things to KO someone. I put my heart into it, so it was really emotional for me.”