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Tavares looks to crack UFC rankings

Updated: 
October 6, 2017 - 10:21pm

When Waiakea High School grad Brad Tavares steps into the octagon Saturday to face Brazil’s Thales Leites in UFC 216, he’ll have an opportunity to crack the Top 15 in the middleweight division.

The heavy-handed Tavares (15-4 overall, 11-4 UFC) will be looking to keep the fight standing as he takes on the 13th-ranked Leites (27-7 overall, 12-6 UFC) at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

“I definitely need to go out there and make it my fight and implement my game plan, as always,” said Tavares, who now lives and trains in Vegas. “Thales is one of those guys — he’s shown it as of lately that he’s well rounded. I think earlier on in his career he was primarily jujitsu, jujitsu, jujitsu. But when he made his second run in the UFC, he’s shown that he can knock people out, he can strike. And he can still submit people. He’s very, very dangerous on the ground.

“Obviously, I believe I have the advantage in the striking, and I think that’s what it comes down to. It’ll come down to me owning the striking game and stopping the takedown.”

Tavares is on the verge of cracking the UFC’s rankings, having worked his way up in mixed martial arts’ premier promotion since his 2010 debut during season 11 of the reality television series “The Ultimate Fighter.”

He’s currently on a two-fight win streak, with a convincing unanimous decision victory in July over Canadian prospect Elias Theodorou and taking a split-decision in September 2016 over Brazilian Caio Magalhaes. Those victories reversed a skid in which Tavares dropped three out of four fights — albeit to a murder’s row of opponents. The losses were by unanimous decision to third-ranked Yoel Romero, a former world champion wrestler and Olympic silver medalist from Cuba, a second-round TKO by 14th ranked Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch, who’s a tough out for anyone, and a 44-second KO loss to Australian phenom Robert Whitaker, who’s now the UFC interim middleweight champ.

“My confidence is always great, you know, even when I dropped those few losses,” Tavares said. “To me, it’s one of those things. Eventually, you’re going to lose at something. It’s how you bounce back. And what I found out about myself is that every time I’ve lost in my career, it’s only fueled me to be better and come back even harder. Even when I had those losses, my confidence didn’t go anywhere. I still believe in myself. I still believe in my team. I believe in my coaches. I believe in my training. And I believe that I’m one of the best in the middleweight division. So Saturday is just another opportunity for me to go out there and prove that.”

Leites has lost three of his past five bouts, although he’s coming off a win against “Smilin’ Sam” Alvey by unanimous decision in April. All of the aforementioned losses were to ranked opponents — a split decision to Michael Bisping, who’s since become the UFC middleweight champion, and unanimous decisions to Gegard Mousasi, who was ranked No. 4 when he jumped the UFC ship for Bellator, and 12th-ranked Krzysztof Jotko.

Oddsshark.com has tabbed the unranked, 29-year-old Tavares as a -200 favorite coming into Saturday night’s bout with Leites. That means one would have to wager $200 on Tavares to get a return of $300. Leites is listed as a +160 underdog, which means if the 36-year-old Brazilian prevails, a $100 wager would net the bettor $160.

Weigh-ins are today and Tavares said he’s on track to make the 186-pound middleweight limit.

The main pay-per-view card Saturday features two five-round title bouts, a clash between No. 2 Tony Ferguson and seventh-ranked Kevin Lee for the interim lightweight title and a flyweight title tilt between champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and No. 3 Ray Borg. The main card will be at 4 p.m. Hawaii time on Spectrum channels 701 and 1701. Four undercard bouts will be at 2 p.m. on FX, channel 1554, while the early preliminaries, including the Tavares-Leites fight will be shown online at 12:15 p.m. on the UFC Fight Pass subscription service. A seven-day free trial is available.

“The support from back home has always been tremendous and let’s just keep it going,” Tavares said. “I’ll be fighting. I hope you folks can tune in and watch.”

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