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Victorious in retirement fight, Leo Leite explains how Dana White helped him become two-division MMA champ

Leo Leite competed twice under the Bellator banner.
Bellator MMA

Leo Leite made his final walk to a cage earlier this month at LFA 132 in Rio de Janeiro when he returned to the same battleground where he won titles in two different divisions.

The 44-year-old Leite made his transition to MMA in 2013 after winning multiple championships in judo and jiu-jitsu and became a multi-division champion at Legacy FC just six bouts into his career. In fact, if it wasn’t for an old comment made by UFC president Dana White, Leite probably wouldn’t have gone for two titles to being with.

“It was funny,” Leite said recently on MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca. “I became light heavyweight champion in my first international fight at Legacy, and then started training for a bit at Blackzilians. Dana White showed up there one day, they were about to shoot the ATT vs. Blackzilians season of TUF, and my manager, who ran the team, introduced me to him. He looked at me and said, ‘You look like a middleweight, huh?’

“That comment got stuck in my head: ‘Can I cut to middleweight?’ I always competed at 220 pounds in judo and as a ultraheavyweight [over 220 pounds] in jiu-jitsu. I decided to give it a try and called my nutritionist, and my second fight [in Legacy FC] was for the Legacy middleweight title.”

Leite stopped Myron Dennis with punches to capture the promotion’s 205-pound gold in September 2014, then finished Larry Crowe five months later to claim the vacant middleweight belt. Later that year, Leite defended his 185-pound title with a decision over future UFC fighter Ryan Spann before moving on to other promotions and eventually Bellator.

“If I could go back in time,” Leite said, “I would have started MMA four years earlier, right after the Beijing Olympics. I had no idea what could happen. I had never trained no-gi before. It was all new to me. Boxing, Muay Thai, I had never trained those things before. After what I saw in my first MMA fight I thought to myself, ‘I think I’m at the right place.’”

Leite dreamed about signing with the UFC after winning both Legacy FC titles, but the offer never came. He says he gave up on the idea after seeing “the circus the UFC has become” and “the way they treated athletes, especially older fighters.”

Leite eventually signed with Bellator, but parted ways with the promotion after losing decisions to Phil Davis and Chris Honeycutt at 205 and 185 pounds, respectively.

Leite had been away from MMA ever since that 2018 exit, largely because of a nearly fatal case of tuberculosis that required nine months of recovery, and then a leg injury that forced another long trip to the hospital.

Leite wasn’t looking at ending his MMA career, however a call from LFA officials offering him the “retirement bout” against Patrick Quadros at LFA 132 convinced him it was time to hang up the gloves. Leite defeated Quadros via unanimous decision to end his career on a win.

“It’s time, right? I’m 44. Body can’t take it anymore, it’s tapping out,” Leite said with a laugh. “I had fun [in the camp] and I’ll miss this like I missed all the travels in judo. I’ll miss this process.”