UFC.com noticed it:
Entering 2010, Chris Leben's UFC career was on the line after back-to-back losses to Michael Bisping and Jake Rosholt, but amazingly, by the time he forced Yoshihiro Akiyama to tap out in the third round of their UFC 116 bout earlier this month, he was back among the ranks of middleweight contenders. This amazing transformation took place thanks to wins this year over Jay Silva, Aaron Simpson, and the aforementioned Akiyama, with the latter two victories occurring within a two week period.
UFC.com also ranks Leben vs Akiyama as the best fight in the UFC so far this year:
It wasn't an enviable position to be in - following the second and fourth entries on this list on the epic UFC 116 card in July, but Chris Leben and Yoshihiro Akiyama may have taken that as a challenge, as they went on to put on the best fight of the first half of 2010. Featuring fierce toe-to-toe action, solid ground work, changes in momentum, and a shocking and exciting finish, this bout had it all. And in the process, Leben, fighting for the second time in two weeks, completed his transformation from MMA's problem child to legit middleweight contender
Sherdog's Tomas Rios noticed too:
Going into 2010 the notion of Chris Leben becoming a serious middleweight contender seemed like a pipe dream reserved for his friends and family.
After notching two upsets in two weeks over Aaron Simpson and Yoshihiro Akiyama, Leben is not only back in the middleweight mix but the overwhelming favorite to take home Sherdog.com's "Comeback Fighter of the Year" award.
Heartwarming stories are in short supply in MMA. While Leben is never going to be a UFC champion, it's always nice to see someone come back from hard times.
And 5th Round reports that Leben's been doing well financially as well:
In two week's time, Leben has made a "total" of $256,000. Please keep in mind, the figures above are what's required to be reported to the Athletic Commissions. Any additional bonuses, such as a special kickback Octagon brass may have slipped him for his quick turnaround in order to co-headline the biggest pay-per-view broadcast of 2010, are not required to be disclosed.
And he's also been having fun in the cage, sharing that unique bond between professional fighters who can appreciate each other's good work, while trying to beat each other senseless:
Leben who was brought into the match against Akiyama just 14 days before the big night admitted that it was a special night. "There were a couple times when I threw a double punch and (Akiyama) looked up and smiled at me," Leben said. "Because I know he knew it too, that we were fighting and this was good."
Until this month, I'd never been a fan of Chris Leben. His personality and antics on The Ultimate Fighter combined with his nearly brain dead fighting style meant that I was on my feet roaring with approval when Anderson Silva demolished him. But I have to admit, he's completely converted me with his performances this month.
Beating Aaron Simpson -- a skilled wrestler with real KO power -- and Yoshihiro Akiyama -- a truly three-dimensional mixed martial artist -- back to back in two weeks is just an amazing feat, there are no two ways about it.
Even more impressively, Leben won the Akiyama fight with an impressive display of jiu jitsu off his back. We knew he had KO power, we knew he had heart, now we know he's got brains and skill too.
Leben is a guy who's failed steroids tests, done jail time, made an utter ass of himself on national television and twice been on the verge of getting cut from the UFC after two consecutive losses. I never expected him to put together two such impressive performances. I've also been impressed with his sudden emergence as a thoughtful and articulate interview subject.
It's also a testament to the unique nature of this sport that an individual has such a unique opportunity to enjoy a public triumph under the most arduous circumstances. Leben's been sternly tested in the Octagon and passed with flying colors.
The fact that Leben has turned his career around so fast -- and not just his career, his life -- is an inspiration to everyone. Hat's off to ya Chris Leben.