Thales Leites went into Saturday night’s bout with Hector Lombard knowing that win or lose, it would be his retirement fight. The tough and durable former middleweight title challenger had decided their UFC Sao Paulo matchup would be the end of the line after 15 years and 37 pro fights.
And while it doesn’t often go down this way in mixed martial arts, this time, the fighter ended his career with his hand raised. Leites shook off a slow start and rallied to win the final two rounds, as the 36-year-old Brazilian ended his career with a unanimous decision victory. The judges’ scores were 29-28 across the board.
“It’s unbelievable, I can’t describe this moment,” said Leites, who finishes with a record of 28-9. “I have to thank everyone who has helped me throughout this.”
The opening round was a feeling-out affair. Lombard, the former Bellator middleweight champion, got the best of the offense by stalking Leites down and landing kick after brutalizing kick to Leites’ lead leg.
But Lombard has a long-established habit of starting fast and then fading, and Leites picked things up in the second round. He scored a takedown, went for an armbar he couldn’t quite cinch, and then picked up the pace over the second half of the round, using his striking to open a wicked cut over Lombard’s right eye.
The third was Leites’ best round of the fight, as he landed knees in the clinch early, then spent several minutes picking his spots and landing right hands to the head and kicks to the leg and torso. Lombard, for his part, never came close to being stopped, but also never got any sustained offense untracked.
“We come in here, we leave it all in the cage, I’ve been through a lot in the Octagon,” Leites said. “My coaches believed in me, they told me to let my hands go, and that’s what I did.”
The final tallies on Leites’ career includes 15 career submission victories, with five in the UFC, which is tied with three other fighters for the most in UFC middleweight history. Leites, who made his UFC debut at The Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale, peaked in 2007-08, when he won five straight fights to earn a shot at then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva, a bout he lost at UFC 97 via unanimous decision. He finished his second UFC stint 8-5 and snapped a two-fight losing streak.