Thales Leites returns to the Octagon at Saturday’s pay-per-view event in Las Vegas, and while many fellow UFC middleweights complain about the upcoming title bout, he has a different opinion regarding the state of the division.
One of the last men to face Michael Bisping before “The Count" captured middleweight gold, Leites, who takes on Brad Tavares at UFC 216 on Oct. 7, sees the clash between the British star and former welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre at Madison Square Garden as a chance for the fighters to make more money.
"Everyone criticizes this fight, but everyone will watch it,” Leites told MMA Fighting. "I don’t think (Bisping) is wrong. He’s going after superfights and keeping the belt longer. This fight with St-Pierre will sell a lot. Everyone will watch it. People might complain about it, but will watch it when the day comes.
"The UFC sells entertainment. If you sell it and people buy it, it’s working. It’s good for (other) fighters who want that, too."
The big question about this match-up is what will happen with the 185-pound belt next. With Robert Whittaker currently holding an interim title, Bisping talking about a potential retirement with a win in New York City, and the possibility of GSP going back to 170, the division could see Whittaker ending 2017 as the undisputed champion.
"GSP is getting the title shot now, and whoever wins, I don’t think they will continue (the title reign) much longer,” Leites said. "Bisping is fighting for a long time, and GSP, if he wins, he won’t keep it. He won’t keep the belt much longer. … This is more of a superfight. I see this as a superfight.”
We won’t know for sure if Bisping will actually retire after UFC 217 until Nov. 4, but the Brazilian doesn’t believe money would be a reason for “The Count” to either fight again or leave the sport for good.
"I think he has made a lot of money in his life, he’s one of the most well-paid fighters in the UFC,” Leites said. "He was the name in Europe before (Conor) McGregor. I don’t think it's about money. He could’ve had retired already but he put his name in history, and he wants to keep moving forward."
The Nova Uniao veteran, who lost a split decision to Bisping back in 2015, would pick the current champion to win at UFC 217, but believes “everything can happen” when St-Pierre is in the cage.
"Bisping has the advantage because this is his division, he’s taller and stronger,” Leites said, "but GSP is one of a kind. He has showed that he has a real chance of becoming champion. But I see a slight advantage for Bisping because he’s more active than St-Pierre and because this is his real division.”
Leites, a former UFC middleweight contender himself, is still going after a second shot at the gold after coming up shot against Anderson Silva in 2009. Ranked at No. 13 in the division and coming off a win over Sam Alvey, Leites sees his match-up with Tavares as a chance to climb another step in the middleweight division.
"I believe (Tavares) will try to keep the fight standing like he always does in every one of his fights,” Leites said. "He has a good cardio, a good volume of strikes standing, but I see holes in his game. Everyone has holes in their games, especially if you start to analyze everyone’s fights closely, as I’m sure he did with my game as well. I see the holes in his game and worked on this to go there and seize the opportunity.
"I think everything that is happening right now (in the middleweight division) is good,” he continued. "There are a lot of great fighters in the division. Everyone in the top 10 has a good shot at becoming the champion, and there are a lot of great fighters outside the ranking. There’s no easy fight. Everyone is tough."