This article is the first in what may become a regular series. In this article I will evaluate title challengers and qualify them as threats to their opponents. The purpose of this is to illustrate the legitimacy of fighters that may otherwise be overlooked; be it from a lack of public interest, lack of available information, or having a heavy favorite as their opponent. The fact remains that no fighter at this level of competition receives a title shot without a great deal of legitimacy. Today, my subject is Saturday's challenger to Anderson Silva's 185 pound crown; Brazilian BJJ maverick Thales Leites.
At 27 years of age, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt and Nova Unaio trained Thales Leites has accumulated an impressive record of 14 wins and only one loss, with key victories over Pele Landi-Jons and Nate Marquardt and his only loss coming at the hands of Martin Kampmann in 2006. Leites, a veteran of Shooto, MARS, Rumble on the Rock and Jungle Fight, is 5-1 in the UFC's octagon. Of his 14 total victories, nine have come by way of submission, with 11 total stoppages.
Possessing great all-around BJJ submission profieciency, Leites' favorite maneuver is widely considered the arm triangle, which he has used to dispatch four of his previous opponents (with armbar ranking second at three total submissions). At times, Leites has flashed powerful standing strikes, through his training in Muay Thai kickboxing, though his technical profieciency has left something to be desired. It is likely that he has spent a lot of time training to overcome his striking deficiencies due to his impending bout with Anderson Silva.
His chin and standing defense are tested, having absorbed and defended blows from vicious strikers such as Landi-Jons, Marquardt and Kampmann, and having never been stopped in a bout. Leites was famously illegally kneed by Nate Marquardt in a controversial June 2008 bout at UFC 85 in London England. Leites absorbed the devestating knee and went on to win a split decision over Marquardt. His BJJ defense is presumed to be excellent, though untested. He is considered to be in elite company among submission specialists in the UFC's middleweight division.
The Road to Victory
Thales is almost entirely unlikely to find a path to the 185 crown by way of striking, as Anderson Silva is without equal in his striking decision-making, accuracy and force. It is likely, however, that he will be forced to use striking to set up his inevitable take down attempts. Possessing a chin and defense proven capable of taking damage, Thales could prove capable of weathering The Spider's opening salvos (and to an increasingly lesser degree, subsequent onslaughts) and somehow coerce him to the mat. In doing so, Leites has the abilities necessary to potentially ensnare Silva in one or several submission attempts, and quite possibly finish him (Silva has been finished by way of submission twice in four career losses). In waging his war on the mat, Leites must use ground and pound striking to soften Silva's submission defense and pass his guard; using Travis Lutter's February 2007 fight with The Spider as a template.
The Road to Failure
Though Leites has superb BJJ and ranks among the top 10 in UFC BJJ-for-MMA skills, in 15 previous career bouts he has not faced an individual with the BJJ skills of Anderson Silva. He has faced some dangerous strikers in his brief career, and still; none the likes of Anderson Silva, who is without parallel. If Leites doesn't approach the standing game defensively (while trading some blows and remaining conservative) and work for a takedown, his night will be brief. Silva is accurate and elusive, so this task is arduous. Additionally, if Leites is expecting the same Anderson Silva that faced Travis Lutter 26 months ago to show up this coming Saturday at UFC 97, he's going to wake up in the hospital wondering what happened. Anderson Silva is a BJJ black belt under the Nogueria's and an obsessive training perfectionist, so Leites should approach the fight expecting that any weaknesses Silva has possessed in the past he has trained to eliminate.
Thales Leites Career Statistics:
Career Win Percentage - 93.3%
UFC Win Percentage - 83.3%
Total Fights won by Submission Percentage - 60%
Total Fights won by Stoppage Percentage - 73.3%
Combined Opponent Win/Loss/Draw Record - 231-147-19
Total Opponent Winning Percentage - 58.2%
Combined UFC Opponent Win/Loss/Draw Record - 81-28-2
UFC Opponent Winning Percentage - 73.3%