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Thales Leites explains how a mental coach helped him get back in the UFC

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Thales Leites was cut from the UFC following back-to-back losses to Anderson Silva and Alessio Sakara in 2009. Four years later, the middleweight returned with four impressive victories inside the Octagon, and he credits his mental coach Gustavo Dantas.

Dantas created the BJJ Mental Coach program to help jiu-jitsu fighters become more confident for tournaments, and decided to help his friend Leites after he was released from the UFC.

"A lot of things changed for me, especially my mind," Leites told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour about his return to the UFC in 2013. "Now I’m more aggressive and I’m training more, and I’m feeling more comfortable and confident. Basically, it’s the confidence. I’ve been working my mental game and it changed my life, for sure."

That doesn’t mean Leites wasn’t confident in his abilities when he won five in a row to earn a shot at the UFC title against Silva. He just needed a little push.

"I was confident, but when I started to do the BJJ Mental Coach, a program with my friend... It made a lot of difference to me because I’ve been working with my mind and it changed for me," he said. "Of course, I’ve been training too, doing all my stuff more professionally, but it changed when I started believing in me."

Since returning to the UFC, Leites dominated Tom Watson, Ed Herman, Trevor Smith and Francis Carmont, finishing the last two in under a minute. What would have happened if he had more confidence at UFC 97, when he fought Silva for the UFC gold?

"I was the challenger, I should go more forwards, you know? I have to show why I was there and why I deserve to be there. And I didn’t," Leites said. "I was trying to do my game plan in the first and second round, and then, when it didn’t work, I got frustrated in my mind, and happened exactly what you saw. That fight, if I had a better mind, I don’t know if I would win or not, but I had to be more aggressive and confident."

In the end, getting released from the UFC and being forced to restart his career in the regional circuit made Leites open his eyes and realize he needed to make a few changes.

"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "I was out of the UFC but life continues. I was still fighting in other shows, and one year after this I had a knee problem, had surgery in my left knee, and then I was recovering and had another surgery in my right knee. It made me stronger. It should bring me down, but I put in my mind you have to change something in your life, you have to bring me more help physically, mentally and spiritually.

"Your brain controls your body, and then I started to think like this and everything changed for me. That situation was very bad, injuries are nightmares for every fighter and it happened to me, but now I’m 100 percent."

Gustavo Dantas will be in Leites’ corner at Saturday night’s UFC 183 event in Las Vegas, when the Nova Uniao fighter faces Tim Boetsch, and the Nova Uniao middleweight wants another finish to get back in the top 10.

"My next step if a real tough fighter, a real tough challenge, and all my focus is on Tim Boetsch now," he said. "I’ll be looking for the submission and the knockout every single moment. Of course, fighting smart, fighting intelligently, and fighting forward. I’m ready to fight standing, takedown defense, takedown and on the ground. Wherever the fight goes I’ll be ready and will be aggressive."