Former ONE Middleweight World Title challenger Leandro Ataides set his training camp in the bustling Chinese capital of Beijing, which is halfway across the world from his hometown of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
However, as he prepares for his upcoming clash with former middleweight kingpin Vitaly Bigdash, the 31-year-old remembers what led him to this point, and how he got there.
For many, especially those in Rio’s favelas, they may never travel outside of their city, let alone see the world like the Nova União BJJ black belt is doing. On a rare occasion, it might be a lucky chance that lands them the opportunity to go abroad, but usually that is chalked up to hard work and perseverance.
Ataides’ life as a globetrotting martial artist is certainly the latter, after years spent honing his craft of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
It certainly was not easy, but thankfully “Leo” had the right people around to guide him, as well as provide the motivation for him to go to these places.
“My inspiration came from my mum,” admits the Brazilian, who reflects on the single-most important figure that shaped his upbringing. “She is a real warrior, and she always took care of me.”
Ataides’ mother not only encouraged him, but she was hands-on in her support for her son and his goals.
The Rio favelas are poverty-stricken areas well known for drugs and gangs, which can very easily tempt youths into a life of crime. When a young “Leo” had his heart set on being a world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, his mother helped to facilitate that in any way she could.
“Sometimes my mum did not have money for my BJJ tournaments, so she would sell something so I could do it, or she would always find a way,” he recollects.
“There were times when she took me by the hand to look for sponsors, and she would say, ‘This is my son, he wants to succeed in BJJ, can you sponsor him?’ She wanted the best for me.”
All of that effort and investment into his fledging martial arts career paid off. In 2005, Ataides became a world champion, as he captured a Copa do Mundo title. He would win four more times before turning his attention to mixed martial arts.
When having success on the mats, and inside the cage, the Brazilian dedicates it to his mother, who put her son and his goals first. Additionally, he dedicates it to his dad, who has unfortunately passed away.
“I learned a lot from my father too. He always did the right thing, and showed me a lot,” Ataides says. “In my heart, I can see him looking down at me from the sky.”
As much inspiration as he takes from his parents, Ataides is also enthused by what he can do for others. In fact, he takes motivation from his ability to positively impact other people’s lives.
Besides wanting to achieve success in order to provide his children with a better life, he knows there are others who see him as a role model, and if he can set them on the right path, then it will be one less life lost to crime or drugs in his home city.
“I want to give people hope, and tell them that they can do whatever they want in life,” he explains.
“You just need one percent of hope, and you can do whatever you want. I have seen a lot of my friends turn to drugs or gangs, but others say they want to be like me – to travel and compete.
“If I can be the person who makes them believe in their dreams, then that is good, because hope can be hard to find in Brazil.”
Ataides knows exactly what it is like to rise from humble beginnings to the sporting elite, and each victory he has in the ONE Championship cage serves as a beacon of hope for any young person who daydreams about escaping the toils of poverty.
The Brazilian could inspire even more people if he defeats Bigdash at ONE: GRIT & GLORY on Saturday, 12 May, at the Jakarta Convention Center. A win could also catapult him back into world title contention.