Two of the UFC's most powerful middleweights will battle for up to five rounds this Saturday night (November 5, 2011) as everyone's favorite red-haired brawler Chris Leben takes on budding contender Mark Munoz in the main event of UFC 138 in Birmingham, England.
Chris Leben bounced back from a horrific loss to Brian Stann by knockout out Pride legend Wanderlei Silva in just 27 seconds at UFC 132. His domination put him right back in the thick of the relatively weak middleweight division and he will be right back in the mix if he can score another big victory against Mark Munoz.
Munoz has taken the leap, evolving into a complete mixed martial artist this past year and his 6-1 record including a recent decision victory over former title contender Demian Maia has proven he's for real. He's sniffing a title shot and if he can defeat the fan-favorite Leben, he'll be one step closer.
Can Leben score another dramatic knockout? Will Munoz ground and pound "The Crippler" into oblivion? What does each talented middleweight have to do to secure a victory on Saturday?
Let's find out:
Record: 22-7 overall, 12-6 in the UFC
Key Wins: Wanderlei Silva (UFC 132), Yoshihiro Akiyama (UFC 116), Aaron Simpson (Ultimate Finale 11)
Key Losses: Brian Stann (UFC 125), Michael Bisping (UFC 89), Jake Rosholt (UFC 102)
How he got here:After plowing through the west coast circuit with a 14-1 record, including becoming the inaugural WEC middleweight champion, Chris Leben rose to fame on season one of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) reality TV show.
Leben didn't have as much success fighting on the show but his drunken antics and overall personality made him a star. After the show ended, he would go on a very impressive five fight winning streak in the UFC middleweight division before earning a fight against UFC newcomer Anderson Silva and obviously that didn't end well for the Oregon native.
Since the loss to Silva, Leben has gone 6-5 in the UFC middleweight division. He was close to being released from the promotion before a very impressive three fight winning streak over the likes of Jay Silva, Aaron Simpson and Yoshihiro Akiyama thrust him back into the realm of contenders.
Leben would be halted at UFC 125 with a first round stoppage loss to Brian Stann but he got right back on track by knocking out MMA legend Wanderlei Silva in just 27 seconds at UFC 132. After his victory, "The Crippler" was invited to participate in the first five round non-title main event in UFC history against Munoz.
How he gets it done: Leben needs to do whatever it takes to land his big left hand. He should take advantage of the fact that this is a five round fight by being more aggressive. Munoz will likely try to take him down, but that will cost him precious energy and in my opinion, Leben has the better gas tank of the two, as he's finished multiple fights in the third round.
Leben shouldn't be afraid of overextending himself in the stand-up as his takedown defense has improved significantly in the last year. He also has a hard enough head to withstand some ground and pound from Munoz, at least temporarily before popping back to his feet. If taken down, though, he should avoid being stuck underneath the former national champ wrestler for extended periods of time.
Don't be surprised to see Leben go for the kill with nearly every punch as he's one of the best finishers in the game when he's got someone hurt. Munoz has bounced back from fighters like Kendell Grove and Demian Maia when they tagged him in a fight, but Leben is a horse of an entirely different color.
Record: 11-2 overall, 6-2 in the UFC
Key Wins: Demian Maia (UFC 131), C.B. Dollaway (UFC on Versus 3), Aaron Simpson (UFC 123)
Key Losses: Yushin Okami (UFC on Versus 2), Matt Hamill (UFC 96)
How he got here: Mark Munoz got into MMA as a pure wrestler. He won an NCAA title while wrestling for Oklahoma State in 2001 while at 197-pounds. After two easy first round knockouts in the WEC, he made his UFC debut against Matt Hamill in the light heavyweight division and was knocked senseless by a Matt Hamill head kick. He smartly chose to drop to 185 pounds after that.
At middleweight, Munoz became famous for his ridiculously powerful ground and pound, blasting both Ryan Jensen and Kendall Grove on the ground before coming up short against Yushin Okami at the second UFC show on the Versus channel.
"The Filipino Wrecking Machine" teamed up with some of the best Brazilian strikers in the sport in a mutually beneficial relationship, as he helped fighters like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Anderson Silva shore up their wrestling while they helped him advance his striking skills. His hard worked paid off as the Reign Training Center owner was able to outstrike Aaron Simpson at UFC 123 and he followed it up by knockout out C.B. Dollaway in less than a minute this past March.
The quick destruction of Dollaway thrust Munoz back into contender status and he solidified that position with a decision victory over former title challenger Demian Maia earlier this summer. He looks to improve his status with another solid performance against the always dangerous Leben.
How he gets it done: Footwork, footwork, footwork. Unlike his good friend, Wanderlei Silva, Mark Munoz needs to avoid standing in front of Leben. If he ever finds himself in a position where he's trading punch for punch or even two punches for one, that is probably a losing battle against "The Crippler."
Munoz's striking has improved significantly in the last year, but he needs to realize that Chris Leben is not the type of fighter you want to stand with for any extended period of time. Munoz should look closely at the gameplans of two fighters in particular who have had success against against Leben, Jake Rosholt and Michael Bisping. Bisping used his footwork beautifully to juke into the pocket and land strikes without getting hit while Rosholt took Leben down, wore him down and then choked him out.
In the stand-up, Munoz needs to utilize good angles to avoid getting hit with counter punches and the second Leben gets frustrated, he should take him down and start pounding on him with his blistering ground and pound attack. "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" has the most dangerous ground striking in the business so if he can keep Leben on his back, posture up and start pounding away, he will be in terrific shape.
Fight "X-Factor:" The biggest X-Factor for this fight is the addition of two additional rounds. With Munoz wrestling ability and Leben's terrific ability to take a punch, this is a fight that could take a long time to finish, so it could end up coming down to conditioning. The longer the fight goes, the more this bout favors Leben as it becomes more and more difficult to take someone down as you get tired and Leben has this freaky ability to score knockouts even when he's completely gassed out. If Leben can drag this fight into the later rounds, his odds of winning should skyrocket.
Bottom Line: While not the most ideal selection for the first non-title fiver round main event in UFC history, this bout should be very entertaining. Both Leben and Munoz bring it every time out and you can especially never count Leben out of a fight. He's proven that time and time again. There are also some middleweight title implications with this fight as with a victory, Munoz would have won four straight in the division and 6 of 7 overall. There's a lot on the line and you should definitely be tuning in.
Who will come out on top at UFC 138? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!