Success is familiar to Leandro Ataides.
The Brazilian, also known as “Leo,” has experienced plenty of success ever since beginning his martial arts journey as a youth. He grew up as a highly-decorated athlete, became a five-time BJJ world champion, and was an undefeated juggernaut early in his career with ONE Championship.
Although he came up short in his first opportunity at the ONE Middleweight World Championship three years ago, Ataides (10-3) feels more prepared to make a run at the gold this time around.
“I had to lose to think more about my career,” the 31-year-old muses, reflecting on the world title defeat that led to his first professional loss. ”You do not lose, you learn. You are learning how to get to your goals.”
Ataides had quite the learning experience in late 2014.
Back then, he was 8-0, had two consecutive knockout victories on the global stage of ONE Championship, and felt virtually invincible. He was then awarded a chance to become the inaugural ONE Middleweight World Champion when he met Igor Svirid at ONE: BATTLE OF LIONS later that November.
That is when his career began to unravel. He was knocked out by Svirid in 17 seconds, and then suffered a pair of stinging defeats in tough subsequent matches. The Brazilian, who had a perfect record, was suddenly on a three-bout skid.
Those setbacks then spurred “Leo” to evolve as a martial artist. He also learnt patience, and became more methodical in his approach to competition.
“I still have my goals to be a world champion with ONE Championship. I created a strategy to find a way to win now,” he explains. “Before, when I had my first world title shot, I acted crazy, like a beast. I can still act like a beast now, but I look to do more.”
In December 2016, at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION, he out-dueled Egypt’s Mohamed Ali with a calculated attack, before landing a flying knee in the waning seconds of round two. It would become ONE’s Knockout of the Year 2016.
The Nova União product then returned to the cage in August 2017 to face former ONE Light Heavyweight World Title challenger Michal Pasternak at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS. Again, the BJJ black belt showed poise, shrewd game planning, and an increased combat IQ to defeat the Polish grappler via unanimous decision.
Now on a two-bout win streak, Ataides has reinserted himself into the division’s elite and could visibly see himself in world title contention. But before he could even think about the latter, he knows he has a tall task ahead of him in Russia’s Bigdash.
“Right now, I am just thinking about winning this match,” he says. “I feel confident to win after two good matches against two big guys. I have to be careful, because my next opponent is a great athlete. I saw him compete before. He is really good. It is going to be an amazing match.”
Overhauling his training following his previous defeats has worked wonders for Ataides so far, and he is living proof of the fact that the most useful lessons can come from the lowest ebbs.
A world champion on the ground and a knockout artist on the feet, the Brazilian plans to use all the tools at his disposal when he enters the cage on 20 January.
“I do not know how this match is going to finish, but I will beat him, and it will be a great show. We have plans on what to do, but I could KO or submit him,” he continues.
“For me, he is still a champion, and we will see what happens.”