"Before I fought Horwich the second time, I was recovering from surgery on my left knee," Leites told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). "Then I tore the ACL on my right knee, my good knee. That happened 15 days before the rematch.
"I told my coach, Andre Pederneiras, that I still wished to fight despite the injury. I spoke to my doctor, and we worked on my muscle strength. I won my fight, thank God. That's why I sort of vanished after the fight. I had to have surgery on the right knee."
Leites (20-4 MMA, 5-3 UFC) got the knee fixed a year ago and returned to Pederneiras' Nova Uniao gym in January. Despite his layoff, he felt confident that he would someday get a call from the UFC, and sure enough, he was invited to return to fight Tom Watson (16-5 MMA, 1-1 UFC) at UFC 163, which takes place Saturday at HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro. They fight on the pay-per-view main card.
Prior to a two-fight skid during his first UFC stint, Leites was considered one of the world's top middleweights after he boasted five straight wins. However, a lackluster decision loss at UFC 97 to now ex-champ Anderson Silva sent his stock plummeting, but his performance on the regional circuit justified a second chance.
"We had been negotiating for some time," Leites said. "We were just waiting for the opportunity. And now it's here, in the best way possible. I'm fighting at home in Rio, in the UFC, on the same card where my teammate Jose Aldo will defend his belt."
In Saturday's pay-per-view headliner, featherweight champ Aldo faces Chan Sung Jung, who replaced an injured Anthony Pettis.
Leites was there when his Nova Uniao teammate Aldo sent a hometown crowd into a frenzy by knocking out Chad Mendes at UFC 142. He wants to make his return one to remember.
"Without a doubt, every Brazilian fighter will be able to feed from the crowd's positive energy," he said. "That can't be avoided. You can feel that energy even from the stands. Your hair stands on end. It keeps the fighter moving forward."
In any event, U.K. native Watson isn't exactly known for playing it safe. In February, he battered Stanislav Nedkov to earn his first UFC win. Eight of his victories come via knockout.
"Several factors will define this fight: standup exchanges, in which I might surprise a lot of people, and wrestling, where we'll decide if the fight will remain on the feet or go to the ground," he said.