Within the confines of the UFC middleweight division, proven knockout artist and The Ultimate Fighter season one contestant Chris Leben (25-6, 11-5 UFC) will look to extend his impressive streak of three straight victories to four as he battles former WEC Light Heavyweight champion Brian Stann (9-3, 3-2 UFC). Dana White has recently talked about Chris Leben's winning streak as being noteworthy enough to dub him the 2010 Fighter of the Year in his own eyes. While many fans would argue against that moniker, it's hard not to see the logic in White's assessment. After all, Leben punched out Aaron Simpson in a highly-entertaining affair at The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale on June 19th, then returned to action at UFC 116 on July 3rd to battle Yoshihiro Akiyama after Wanderlei Silva withdrew due to injury.
The UFC, stuck in a bad spot in trying to find a competitive late replacement in a main event showdown, was pleasantly surprised when Leben came back from the brink of unconsciousness to submit Akiyama in the third round. Not only has Leben delivered some inspiring performances in 2010, but he's proved his company man status in helping the UFC get out of tight situations.
Leben isn't without faults however, and he was once again a topic of discussion in October as he was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence in Honolulu, Hawaii. In the lead-up to this bout, it's been a talking point during the pre-fight interviews and questioning, and Leben simply chalks it up to making a bad decision. Hopefully, that trend of bad decision making doesn't rear its ugly head inside the Octagon.
Stann enters this contest following a submission victory over IFL veteran Mike Massenzio at UFC on Versus II back in August. He previously dropped a decision to the surging Phil Davis, but defeated both Rodney Wallace and Steve Cantwell in 2009 appearances. Stann has stated that he asked for this fight because he felt that Leben was one of the toughest in the division, and he wanted to prove to everyone that he's tougher. Among the comparisons, he also stated that he feels he's the better athlete in this match-up, and that will clash with the experience that Leben possesses.
Are those true statements? For the most part, I think they are, but Leben possesses a few intangibles that are hard to factor into an objective analysis. His power is an obvious concern for Stann, but Leben's uncanny ability to withstand damage and go into what I like to call a "zombie" mode in which he seems impervious to pain is a x-factor that Stann doesn't possess. I'm not one to count on those attributes showing up in a fight, but it's tough to ignore them when they have been a part of Leben's career for so long.
The most relevant question to ask, however, is how much Stann's improvements will affect his overall performance. He's gone from mostly a knockout threat to a decision machine, and now he's suddenly pulling off submission wins? The improvement is evident, and Stann's training at Greg Jackson's gym is paying off nicely.
Leben is the obvious choice due to his power and iron chin, and his Brazilian jiu-jitsu is adequate enough to get him back to where he's effective on the feet. Stann's improvements are a concern though, and I have an eerie feeling that he might pull a win off in the end. Leben is historically a slow starter, but that also works to his advantage at times as his opponents will wear themselves out. I do, however, have concerns about Stann at 185 pounds, even though he's fought there once already. I'll go with Leben, but Stann is a live underdog pick in this contest.