In middleweight action, UFC veteran Chris "The Crippler" Leben (19-6, 9-5 UFC) returns to the Octagon following an unanimous decision win over Jay Silva at UFC Fight Night 20 to battle NCAA All-American wrestler and proven knockout threat Aaron Simpson (7-0, 3-0 UFC) at The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale. Simpson remains undefeated as he defeated Tom Lawlor at UFC Fight Night 20 via split decision in his most recent bout while also battering Ed Herman and Tim McKenzie in his current stint with the promotion.
Leben hasn't been as successful as he once was in the past, and many fans have pointed to the fact that Leben's lifestyle may be the source of his frustrating dive. He's 3-4 in his last 7 bouts with losses to Jason MacDonald, Kalib Starnes, Michael Bisping, and Jake Rosholt over the period of four years. He remains a rather one-dimensional fighter, but he does have some Brazilian jiu-jitsu knowledge on the ground to survive and regain his feet. Unfortunately, he isn't threatening enough to stop the stronger wrestlers and grapplers who can control him from the top.
Simpson defeated six of seven opponents via stoppage over the course of his career, but Tom Lawlor was able to put Simpson on the brink of defeat at UFC Fight Night 20 by firing off a barrage of devastating combinations that nearly flattened him in the first round of action. Miraculously, Simpson survived the onslaught while Lawlor completely sapped his energy in trying to finish off Simpson. The next two rounds were back and forth with dizzying action, but Simpson was able to take the final two rounds from two judges to win.
Interestingly enough, the brink of defeat gave us a glimpse as to what the 35-year-old Simpson offers when pushed to his limit. For such an aged fighter, Simpson's conditioning is top-notch. He has good recovery abilities, great wrestling chops, and powerful striking ability. That's a tough repertoire of skills to find in a fighter who many would say is past his prime.
Leben will provide a tough skill-set for Simpson to overwhelm, but Simpson's wrestling may be the x-factor in the showdown. Leben's bout with Jay Silva proved that Leben still has the skills to be controlling and dominant on the ground when his opponent puts themselves in bad spots, but wrestling can be the ultimate Achilles' heel to a Brazilian jiu-jitsu defense based on someone making mistakes. From the top, Simpson could maintain position, pepper Leben with shots, and never truly put himself in a situation for Leben to capitalize on a reversal.
I think the most interesting aspect of this fight is the stand-up game. Leben is well-known for his powerful overhands, but Simpson has made quite the name for himself by pressing forward and landing solid shots. Will he risk being leveled by Leben's hands to impose his own power on Leben's chin? I would think not, but this is mixed martial arts -- anything can happen.
I like Simpson's chances in this fight if he can shoot for takedowns and successfully control Leben from the top. Rosholt had success, but I think Simpson might be able to finish Leben off quicker as he has the power to do so in his punching from top control. Simpson will need to be careful of Leben's ability to sweep and reverse positions, but I think he controls Leben and batters him to a TKO victory.