Leandro “Wolf” Ataides suffered a huge tragedy at 16 when his father died, but he was left with lessons that have made him into a family man and world-class athlete.
The five-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion – who returns to action against Reinier “The Dutch Knight” De Ridder at ONE: WARRIOR’S CODE on Friday, 7 February – saw the hard work his father, José dos Santos Damião, did to put food on the table, and he will never forget that.
To this day, the 33-year-old is inspired by him every time he enters the Circle.
“My father was a home engineer building homes in Brazil. It was really tough work,” he says.
“He put a lot of energy into me and our family and always looked out for me. He is my big inspiration and thinking of him motivates me. I learned a lot from him. He always did the right thing and showed me a lot. In my heart, I can see him looking down at me from the sky.”
With three children of his own now, “Wolf” can see how important his father – who died aged 58 – was in building his outlook on life and where his priorities should be.
He showed the young Ataides what he should prioritize, but also that he should do something he was enthusiastic about so he could lead a fulfilling life. Now, he is passing that philosophy on to his kids, too.
“I try to show to my kids how important it is for the family to be together, how to love, how to have a passion, how to do whatever they want, because it was my father that I learned that from,” he reveals.
“Also, how to put so much love into the things he did for the family, for my brother, for my mum. My motivation is to show my kids this, and I fight for them – I fight for my family.”
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Damião’s work ethic and selflessness also inspired his son to make a huge sacrifice for the people he loves the most.
When he found out he could earn more money teaching and competing in Asia, he made the difficult decision to leave his children in Brazil so he could give them a comfortable life.
“It’s really hard for me to be away from them, to be separated from them, but it gives me more motivation to work hard for them and to make everything go well,” says “Wolf.”
“But in the end, they are going to see how I have worked for them, how I did my best for them, and then pretty soon we are going be together and celebrate all of these things.”
Ataides admits balancing his life as an athlete and a dad is not easy, but he commits his all into martial arts – just as his father worked long hours on construction sites – and the rewards are worth it.
He knows his father would be proud of the way his hard work has given his daughter and two sons a happy life and has set an example for them to follow, as he did for “Wolf.”
Plus, Damião would be thrilled at the way his son has brought honor to the family by achieving so much success on the global stage. That is what motivates him to strive toward ONE Championship gold.
“It is my path and my job, so I look for nothing but to be the World Champion,” Ataides says.
“Then, my legacy will be with my kids, and then with my students, that’s why I know my father is really proud of me.
“This life is sometimes easy, sometimes tough – more tough than easy – but it’s all part of the life. I know he would be proud to see what I have done.”