Leandro “Wolf” Ataides is looking to get back on track in the middleweight division, and he believes that taking out a mixed martial arts legend in his upcoming bout at ONE: HEAVY HITTERS on Friday, 14 January, will help him do just that.
The Brazilian will square off against Japanese icon Yushin “Thunder” Okami as part of the evening’s lead card, with hopes that a dominant performance will kick-start a push toward ONE gold.
“I’m always focused on the World Title shot, so I know I have to win this fight to get back to the top,” he says.
“If I beat Okami, I will probably be the second or third contender in the division. I have put my whole heart into training to win this fight.”
“Wolf” came up short against Myanmar legend Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang in his last match at ONE: BATTLEGROUND in July, suffering a first-round knockout at the hands of the former two-division ONE World Champion.
The loss was a good excuse for Ataides to take some time to figure out what parts of his arsenal he needed to improve, and now he’s ready to showcase what he’s been working on against “Thunder.”
“You never lose; you always learn. So I worked on the mistakes I made. Now’s the time to try them out – watch the next fight and see how everything has worked,” he says.
That new focus and the goal of returning to winning ways undoubtedly gives the Nova Uniao athlete motivation to perform on 14 January, but the chance to take on a true luminary of Asian MMA also offers added enthusiasm going into the bout.
Okami has faced off against the sport’s elite throughout his 20-year international combat career, and Ataides can’t wait to join the illustrious list of opponents the Ex Fight representative has faced.
“He’s a legend who has fought with the biggest names from Brazil. So for me, it’s going to be a big honor. I really respect him, so I’m excited to fight him – I can’t wait for the day to come,” he says.
“I can win this fight. I feel really positive inside because I have improved myself, and I will do my best.”
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There’s no easy route to victory over the well-rounded veteran, but Ataides has dangerous weapons in every range – from concussive striking to world-class grappling.
However, he believes it’ll be his submission game that decides the night, and he’s worked hard to brush up on the skills that took him to BJJ World Championship gold.
“Okami doesn’t have one style. He has so many styles in his fights. He is a complete fighter – good striking, good grappling, good everywhere,” the 35-year-old says.
“We don’t know what we can expect in this fight, so I just have to go into him and do my best. This time, I really want to use my BJJ game. I always want to show this, but now I really put 100 percent into it because this is my background, my natural reaction, what I grew up with.”
Whether Ataides wrestles his way to top position or Okami manages to drag the hulking Brazilian to the mat, “Wolf” is sure that his instincts will kick in and help him find a way to win on the ground.
He is wary of the threat that the Kanagawa resident brings to the Circle but is confident that he’ll dispatch his rival inside the distance – and maybe even inside the first five minutes.
“I might have to set him up with my striking to take him down. But if he takes me down, I feel really fine with that. I can work very well and control the fight with my BJJ,” he says.
“I’m going to submit him, and it’ll be finished by the second round or the end of the first round. I see that. But you never know – with two big guys and the big show, anything can happen.”