Thales Leites felt a different type of pressure when he stepped inside the Octagon in 2013.
Released by the UFC in 2009 following a pair of lackluster bouts with Anderson Silva and Alessio Sakara, Leites needed multiple wins outside the promotion to be able to return to the UFC in 2013. UFC featherweight Jose Aldo also was an important part of his campaign to get back inside the Octagon.
"I was already negotiating with the UFC, and [Aldo] talked to them and asked to have me fighting on the same card in Rio," Leites told MMAFighting.com. "I knew that one day I would be back, and I believe that I deserved it because I won six of seven fights out of the UFC, with five fights against UFC veterans. Unfortunately, I had some injuries, but it showed that I was hungry to return."
First impressions are the most lasting, so the Nova Uniao fighter knew he needed to deliver in his return to the UFC.
"I’m always aggressive in my fights, but I was really frustrated against Anderson Silva," he said. "I should have went forward, especially being the challenger, but didn’t. I didn’t perform how I wanted against Sakara, but I still think I won the fight.
"When I returned (to the UFC), I felt I had to deliver, and I believe I had great fights. It was the fight of the night in Rio. It was great, and that’s what I’m going for in all my fights. In my last fight, my opponent was defending all the time, wasn’t aggressive, so it’s harder to get the submission in a situation like that."
"It was a great year for me, better than I expected," he said. "I returned to the UFC the best way possible, fighting in the main card at UFC Rio against a tough fighter in Watson, and then fighting at UFC’s 20th anniversary show."
Leites knows that Watson and Herman aren’t the type of fighters that would led him into another shot at the middleweight title, but are the first steps in his new run inside the promotion.
"They were not Top 10 guys, but they are both good so I climbed the ladder," he said. "Being in the UFC already shows how tough you are, and I’m sure that my next fight will be against an even tougher opponent now. It only gets tougher when you get closer to the tops, but I’ll do my homework and get the win."
As a new year starts, Thales Leites’ awaits a new challenge to continue his homework and move up the rankings.