At 27 years of age, Leandro Ataides is reaching his athletic peak and the three time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) world champion and undefeated mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter is ready to make a serious statement about his title credentials when he takes on Bryan Rafiq at ONE FC: "Warrior Spirit."
The show is set for Stadium Putra on November 15th and the middleweight match up between Ataides and Rafiq is one of the most intriguing on the card because the Brazilian has a perfect professional record of 5-0 while his French opponent's tally stands at an impressive 8-2.
This will be Ataides' first time fighting in Asia but he says he has been following the MMA scene here for a while and wants to emulate some famous Brazilian mixed martial artists by winning fans fighting for a promotion in the East.
"Many great fighters have come from Asian events and in Brazil fighters like Renzo Gracie, Wanderlei Silva and Shogun Rua became legends because of what they did fighting in Asia. They did very good when they fought for Pride and I want to do the same for ONE FC."
He will have a chance to instantly establish himself as a candidate to fight for the inaugural ONE FC 185-pound belt when it is eventually introduced when he takes on Rafiq because the French fighter has competed all over the world, is riding a three fight win streak and has never been stopped.
ONE FC's middleweight division is in its infancy but with both fighters having such strong records the winner will arguably be the top 185-pounder on the roster and Ataides says he anticipates the French fighter will provide a rigorous examination of his title credentials.
"I don't know anything about my opponent but my coaches at Evolve MMA say he has good jiu jitsu and has beaten some tough guys. ONE FC is the biggest promotion in Asia now and all the fighters are tough, I don't expect to get any easy fights."
In June of this year Ataides joined the fight team at Evolve MMA in Singapore where he trains alongside fellow Brazilians Rafael Dos Anjos, Bruno Pucci and Leandro Issa. In Brazil he fought out of the renowned Nova Uniao camp, which is home to UFC champions Renan Barao and Jose Aldo, and says he has benefited from the experience of learning with two of the most renowned teams in the world.
"Evolve MMA and Nova Uniao are very similar. They are both championship teams and everybody is a super athlete and everyone trains hard. The main difference is that Evolve MMA has more world champion coaches but Nova Uniao has more professional fighters. Since I came to Singapore I have been learning some very detailed techniques and working on my Muay Thai a lot."
Tatsuya Mizuno made a successful middleweight debut at ONE FC: "Total Domination" and Melvin Manhoef is also on the roster at 185 pounds. There are potentially some big fights out there for Ataides in the future and the Brazilian is looking forward to testing himself against the division's elite.
"Manhoef is a fun fighter, very good striking, and Mizuno is tough and has fought some good guys. I'm excited to test myself against these sort of opponents and I believe I can win the title because I work hard and I have the best trainers and training partners."
The UFC recently confirmed its first ever show in Singapore and Ataides' new home is fast becoming the epicentre of Asian MMA. He says he is surprised to see how rapidly the sport which was born in his native Brazil is growing all over the world.
"In Brazil, everyone knows BJJ and MMA but I did not think it would be so popular in Asia. I have a lot of people coming to my BJJ classes at Evolve MMA and when I walk on the street with ONE FC fighters like Brodinho and Bruno a lot of people know who they are and want to stop and say hello."
Ataides will have the chance to introduce himself to the Asian audience at ONE FC: "Warrior Spirit" and he is hoping to not just beat Rafiq put in a the type of performance which will instantly establish him as a favorite with the local fans.
"It will not be an easy fight and I will be happy with a win but I have been doing BJJ for nearly 20 years so if I could finish my first fight in Asia with a submission that would be perfect for me. My coaches at Evolve MMA say that he (Rafiq) is an aggressive fighter so I hope it will be an exciting fight and people will talk about it for a long time."