Leben is red hot after a 2010 campaign that saw him go 3-0 against Yoshihiro Akiyama, Aaron Simpson and Jay Silva. He fought Akiyama only three weeks after beating Simpson. The Leben-Akiyama bout was one of the best of the year and featured a dramatic come back submission win by Leben.
Leben was a star of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, pioneering the troubled bad boy niche that has become a staple of the reality series. He began his UFC career with five straight wins but after a crushing first round loss to future champ Anderson Silva struggled for the next three years. He went 3-4 after the Silva loss before picking up his three straight wins in 2010.
Stann is the former WEC light heavyweight champion. He struggled after moving to the UFC's 205lb class, going 2-2 with losses to Krzysztof Soszynski and Phil Davis. He submitted Mike Massenzio in his middleweight debut in August.
Stann has been training with Greg Jackson and many feel he has become a dramatically more complete Mixed Martial Artist under Jackson's expert coaching.
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.