This Saturday night (July 2, 2011), two of the most feared brawlers in all of mixed martial arts will throw down in the co-main event of UFC 132: "Cruz vs. Faber 2" as Pride legend Wanderlei Silva takes on TUF product Chris Leben.
Silva has been away from MMA for well over a year now after suffering a serious knee injury in his preparation for a UFC 116 fight. He's ready to shake off the rust and continue the momentum he'd been building in the middleweight division before he got hurt.
Chris Leben was on a roll at 185 in 2010. His big break actually came at the Wanderlei Silva's expense when he stepped in to take on Yoshihiro Akiyama in place of "The Axe Murderer." He's looking to get back on track against one of his heroes on Saturday night.
Will "The Axe Murder" crack "The Crippler's" titanium skull? Can Chris Leben overcome his hero worship and take care of business? Which middleweight will go down first after the initial flurry of wild strikes?
Let's find out:
Record: 33-10-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 3-5 in the UFC
Key Wins: Michael Bisping (UFC 110), Quinton Jackson 2x (Pride 28, Pride Final Conflict 2003), Keith Jardine (UFC 84)
Key Losses: Chuck Liddell (UFC 79), Quinton Jackson (UFC 92), Rich Franklin (UFC 99)
How he got here: Boy where do we start? We don't have room for a novel so we'll have the condensed version. Wanderlei Silva got his big break in Pride Fighting Championships. He'd gone 1-2 in the UFC including losing a title shot to Tito Ortiz at UFC 25 but he flourished in Japan.
Once in Japan, Silva went on a legendary four year unbeaten streak which included 12 knockouts and becoming the promotions defending 205 pound champion. Silva was considered the best fighter on the planet and his victory in the Pride 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix which included the likes of Alistair Overeem, Sakuraba, Quinton Jackson and Chuck Liddell only cemented that fact.
Silva's fall from glory began with a vicious head kick from Mirko Filipovic and a knockout from the hands of Dan Henderson at Pride 33 where he would lose his precious title.
At UFC 79, Silva would finally fight Chuck Liddell in a match that was over five years in the making. No one cared that both men were coming off of two losses, it was still a big deal. The Brazilian would lose a unanimous decision but the fight was the stuff of legends with both men throwing bombs from start to finish.
Silva got back on track with a first round knockout of Keith Jardine but a devastating counter punch from Quinton Jackson in a trilogy fight would send him down to middleweight.
"The Axe Murderer" defeated current contender Michael Bisping in his middleweight debut but has since been sidelined for over a year with injuries. He's looking to rebuild his momentum against Chris Leben.
How he gets it done: Wanderlei Silva is always going to have that brawling style, it's in his DNA. There's a saying that you can't teach an old dog new tricks and that is certainly the case with Silva. The fans adore him for it.
At middleweight, he was definitely lighter on his feet against Bisping and showed improved cardio. He'll need that against Leben because "The Crippler" always seems to pick apart opponents late after taking a hellacious beating early in the fight.
Look for Wanderlei to wade in throwing big bombs from the hips with semi-reckless abandon. If he hurts Leben, he absolutely needs to try to finish him because allowing "The Crippler" to recover just gives him an opportunity for a crazy comeback.
Silva's best plan of action would be to pin Leben against the fence and work his nasty knees. Silva also has some powerful hooks and, while he throws them wildly, it's a lot easier to hit a target that's stuck in one spot.
Record: 25-7 overall, 11-6 in the UFC
Key Wins: Yoshihiro Akiyama (UFC 116), Aaron Simpson (TUF 11 Finale), Jorge Santiago (UFC Fight Night 6),
Key Losses: Brian Stann (UFC 125), Michael Bispiong (UFC 89), Anderson Silva (UFC Fight Night 5)
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. Silva obliterated Leben in just 49 seconds with a series of punches and knees.
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.
Most recently, Leben didn't take UFC 125 opponent Brian Stann seriously and got crushed by a series of powerful punches from "The All-American."
"The Crippler" had asked for a fight with Silva after defeating Akiyama at UFC 116 and the timing just happened to be perfect for the match request to finally be fulfilled this Saturday.
How he gets it done: Chris Leben is a very straight forward guy. He loves to wade in and throw bombs. He doesn't jab much, hardly kicks (although foot stomps are a favorite weapon) and he's not known for having a great ground game.
What Leben usually does is absorb punishment and then capitalize on his opponent's tired state with a series of powerful strikes that puts them down. He's done it against Terry Martin, Aaron Simpson and capitalized on Akiyama's mistake at UFC 116 to pull off the dramatic upset victory via triangle choke.
Look for Leben to try to tire Silva out by taunting his hero and then trading blow-for-blow in the center of the cage. Chris isn't much of a game-planner, he just loves to scrap.
If he can force Silva into a brawl, you can throw the odds out the window and it'll simply be who's left standing after three rounds.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" for this fight is Wanderlei Silva's ring rust. Silva is a fighter who's always been extremely active. The longest break he's taken from fighting was when he dropped down to middleweight over a span of eight months. By the time he steps into the Octagon on Saturday night, he'll have been away from the cage for over 16 months.
At 34 years old, Silva has been in more wars in the cage than would be considered healthy for an entire lifetime. That started to catch up to him with three knockout losses in his last seven fights. Maybe the time off will be good for him, allow him to heal to 100% for the first time in years, but I'm not keeping my hopes up.
Bottom Line: This fight is the co-main event because Joe Silva expects both warriors to abandon the gameplan and just wing haymakers for 15 straight minutes or until someone goes down. Neither fighter has been known for being a master strategist in the past and this has all the makings of an absolute war. If you watch any fight at UFC 132, make it this one.
Who will come out on top at UFC 132? Let us know in the comments section below!