It’s not often a middleweight bursts onto the scene in Asia, but Leandro Ataides established himself as an immediate star by becoming the first fighter to ever stop Bryan Rafiq when the two fought at ONE FC: Warrior Spirit last month.
The Brazilian went into the fight with a reputation as a grappler, he holds a black belt in BJJ and has won the world championships numerous time, but it was his striking that did the damage with the Pancrase veteran left face down on the canvas after a flurry of punches.
It could have been much worse for Rafiq had Ataides not decided to abandon his onslaught without the referee’s intervention. The Brazilian says he realized immediately that the fight was effectively over and his opponent did not need to take any further punishment.
“I hit him with some hard punches and he went down, so I knew the fight was nearly at the finish. I planned to use some ground and pound or maybe work for a submission, but when I saw his arms were by his side, I knew he was out. This is MMA, this is a sport, you don’t need to hurt someone when you know you have already won the fight,” he said.
Ataides might have showcased his compassion at the end of the fight, but it was his well rounded skills that had really caught the eye up until that point. The BJJ black belt looked very comfortable with his striking, narrowly missing with a head kick attempt, and also took Rafiq down with ease.
The finish came when he connected with a combination of punches that left the French fighter on wobbly legs, as he tried and failed to regain his balance before Ataides finished the job with another shot that put him out altogether.
The win improved Ataides’ record to 6-0 and puts him at the head of the middleweight pack with talk of a 2014 title shot already starting to gather momentum. The 27-year-old does not want to get ahead of himself, but believes he has what it takes to be a champion.
“I train with some of the best coaches in the world at Evolve MMA in Singapore. So I am improving a lot now, working on my Muay Thai with all the world champions, and my wrestling with Heath Sims, who was in Olympic Games before. For sure I want to win the title, but I only fought in Asia one time now, so maybe I have to show my skills some more before I will get a title shot,” he said.
The biggest name in the ONE FC middleweight division is Melvin Manhoef. Ataides would love a chance to take on the feared Dutch kickboxer.
“I work on everything, my wrestling, my BJJ, my boxing and my jiu-jitsu and at Evolve MMA we have some very good coaches, world champions with a lot of experience. Melvin Manhoef has dangerous striking for sure, but I believe I am a more complete mixed martial arts fighter and I would like to test myself against him if that is a fight ONE FC wants to do,” he said.
The first five wins of Ataides’ career all came in his native Brazil, but he signed with Asia’s biggest MMA organization after joining the Evolve MMA fight team earlier this year. The Brazilian made his promotional debut at ONE FC: Warrior Spirit and says it is an experience he will never forget.
“The stadium was full and everybody was so loud. Everyone told me about ONE FC being very big in Asia, but I had not expected to see so many people and to hear how loud they cheered. When the Malaysian fighters won everybody went crazy. It was a very good experience for me and I hope to fight in many more cities like this.”
ONE FC has already handed out belts at 135 and 155 pounds with injury putting paid to proposed titles matches at 125 and 170 pounds. There’s no indication yet on when the 185-pound strap might be introduced, but an emphatic knockout win in Kuala Lumpur must make Ataides the frontrunner in the division.
(Follow @JamesGoyder on Twitter | Photo courtesy of One FC)