As two of the premier athletes in the middleweight division, it seemed inevitable that both athletes would cross paths at some point. In fact, they nearly did in January.
The Rio de Janeiro, Brazil native was originally supposed to clash with Bigdash at ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE. However, only a few days before the event, the former titleholder was sidelined with an unfortunate staph infection, and “Leo” was left without a match.
“Vitaly got an infection in his knee, and could not compete,” the 31-year-old Brazilian explains.
“Then I got a new opponent, but the doctors said he was not allowed to fight either. I felt very sad, because I worked really hard. But sometimes, there are things we cannot control.”
“Leo” was disappointed, but he did not let the feeling linger. Instead, he focused on the things he could control.
He committed to remaining in the best possible condition, and was prepared to accept any challenges that came his way in the weeks to follow.
“I did not mind if they offered me another fight straight away, or if they wanted me to wait for Bigdash to be better, as I know everybody wanted to see that match-up,” Ataides explains.
“I work for ONE Championship, I do not ask for any bouts. I just stay healthy and listen to them when they say I have to be ready.”
Ultimately, the bout with the Russian was one both the matchmakers and the fans wanted to see.
The colossal showdown has been rescheduled for ONE: GRIT & GLORY, which takes place at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia on Saturday, 12 May.
“Leo” has remained injury-free, and has had successful back-to-back training camps, which means he is twice as prepared for the task at hand.
It will not be an easy task, however.
Bigdash has proved to be an elite competitor with incredible endurance during his time in ONE. He knocked out Igor Svirid to complete an amazing comeback in October 2015 to capture the world title, then successfully defended it against Aung La N Sang in January 2017. However, he was dethroned by “The Burmese Python” in a closely-contested, five-round rematch last June.
The stakes heading into this Jakarta encounter are sky high, as the winner could earn their place as the next challenger for the ONE Middleweight World Championship. But Ataides is confident, and believes he will be fitter and stronger than ever before in his quest to defeat Bigdash.
“I will be more prepared this time,” the Brazilian says. “I kept in shape, and trained hard. Before, I was 100 percent ready. Now, I am 200 percent ready. Something good will happen!”
Ataides has been training for the match at Capital Training Center MMA in Beijing, China, which is nearly 11,000 miles away from his family and Nova União – his home gym in Brazil. However, he believes that preparing halfway around the world helps him achieve the complete focus and concentration he needs to perform at his best.
While “Leo” sometimes has to sacrifice his time to help others back in his homeland, his training camp in China is built entirely around him. To achieve great things, there are times an athlete simply has to put himself first, and that is the luxury he is afforded in the Chinese capital.
“Brazil is my home, but I like to do my training here, because I have good training partners and coaches,” Ataides explains.
“Here, everyone comes to help me, and I have my coaches for everything. I am blessed to have the people I have around me, and because of them, it makes me very confident.”
Lately, that confidence has shown inside the ONE cage.
Despite being a five-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, the former middleweight world title challenger has embraced his ever-improving striking abilities, and even has more knockouts than submission wins. Five of his career victories have come via KO/TKO.
Ataides’ desire to throw heavy leather has even caused those closest to him to question why he has not tried to display more of his grappling wizardry. But in his upcoming showdown in Jakarta, he hints that he may go back to his roots as well as unleashing his punches, kicks, and flying knees.
“Everyone asks me, ‘Why don’t you show your jiu-jitsu in ONE?’ So okay, I will do my best to show my background. That is the plan. It could be a submission, or it could be anything.”
Whatever the method, only a win will put Ataides in contention to challenge for the belt, and he believes he’s better prepared than ever to get it.