Saturday, June 26, 2010

Chris Leben Steps Up

"Got a chest full of heart, no Tin Man" - Lil Wayne

While this line definitely wasn't written about Chris Leben it certainly applies. After beating Aaron Simpson via TKO on June 19th at the Ultimate Fighter Finale Leben has agreed to replace the injured Wanderlei Silva and fight Yoshihiro Akiyama aka "Sexyama" at UFC 116 on July 3rd.

This is almost unprecedented in MMA. Unless a fighter is competing on the Ultimate Fighter they usually have at least 2 to 3 months off between fights. Hell some fighters only once or twice in a year. This is what makes Leben so different. He sees he has an opportunity to fight a top contender and is jumping all over the chance to make a run at a title possibly.

I've had more than a couple buddies of mine say things like, "man I hate Chris Leben but dude has serious balls taking a fight like this right away." And it's true. Taking a fight on short notice isn't as easy as it sounds. Game plans need to be formulated to ensure the best chance at victory and also a fighter needs to be physically and mentally prepared which takes more than 14 days.

But showing heart like this is nothing new for Leben.

Chris Leben first made his mark in MMA when he was on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter. He was the kind of guy you either loved or hated as he had a shaved head, which he died all sorts of stupid colors, and a bad attitude. He wasn't a very personable guy and he was clearly an emotional wreck. During one episode he broke his knuckle punching in the front door to the house where all the fighters stay. No more than 2 days later he was in the cage going 2 rounds with Josh Koscheck.

While that takes some serious heart it is not the most impressive thing Leben has ever done. To me the most impressive accomplishment in Leben's career is his lost to Anderson Silva. I know that sounds crazy but just watch the fight. Leben takes about 10-12 punches square on the jaw, punches and knees to the body and even a head kick for good measure before finally being dropped by a vicious knee.

Leben took those shots and kept coming forward. Meanwhile James Irvin took 1 punch and was done. Forrest Griffin took about 4 punches before he finally literally begged for mercy. Rich Franklin took a lot of punishment but always seemed as if he was dead on his feet. So far the only person to stand with Silva, albeit for a short period of time, and move forward has been Chris Leben. That's gotta be worth something right?

The dude has heart. He isn't the most talented, or smartest, guy in the UFC but he may be the toughest. Is he going to be Sexyama? More than likely no but by stepping up when called upon he will have earned the respect of Dana White, his peers and most importantly the fans.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of his opponent. When Sexyama learned that Leben would be replacing Silva he almost backed out.

In an interview with a Korean MMA blog site Sexyama had this to say, "I am not pleased with the change. There are just 10 days left until the contest for me to determine [Leben’s] threats and the time is insufficient to establish a tailored gameplan. Leben is also not as high-profile as [Wanderlei] Silva and that does not help me.

"If there is to be a replacement, I was hoping for a big name. I spent one year preparing hard for this fight and this news has come as a big disappointment. My motivation has waned. I do not know yet what will happen. ... In the worst case, I will not take part in the [UFC 116] event. We are working hard to resolve this issue."

While his concerns about Leben's status within the division are well founded the rest of his argument is not. As I said before Leben is a brawler and nothing else. His gameplan is to get into the Octagon and try and knock you out. Off his back he is less than average and his speed is also a weakness as will be his cardio. If Sexyama truly believes he is a contender for the title he should be able to handle Leben with little difficulty.

I'm excited for this fight and I am sure it will be exciting as Chris Leben is rarely involved in a boring fight and will be coming out with a lot to prove. Maybe he will beat Sexyama by using his massive nuts to knock him out. Who knows?

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