In the lone middleweight bout taking place on the UFC 132 main card on Saturday night in Las Vegas, Nevada, former PRIDE kingpin Wanderlei Silva (33-10-1-1) will square off against The Ultimate Fighter season one contestant and six-year UFC veteran Chris Leben (25-7) in what should prove to be an entertaining striker's duel. Both Silva and Leben have created storied careers on the premise that they rarely go to the floor and prefer to punish opponents with aggressive striking and brutal power, and it's clear the UFC is hoping to strike gold with what history suggests will happen.
Silva is the more accomplished fighter between the two, attaining the PRIDE middleweight crown and dominating the competition he faced for nearly a decade before the latter stages of his PRIDE career. At one point in time, he was considered one of the most feared men in the sport, and he has the accomplishments to prove the moniker has merit.
Unfortunately, "most feared" hardly applies to Silva in his current state. He's a shell of his former self, likely due to the wear and tear his body and brain have taken over the years. He possessed an exciting style that fans celebrated, but it hasn't helped his frail 34-year-old body in today's climate.
Leben may not be far behind, although it's tough to say he's lessened in skill since he's been a similarly skilled fighter over the course of his entire career. Where Leben lacks technical know-how, he makes up for in entertainment value, playing the part of spoiler and fan-friendly attraction perfectly.
His most recent heroics came during a two-fight run in June and July of last year, knocking off touted wrestler Aaron Simpson at The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale, then turning around and submitting Japanese judoka Yoshihiro Akiyama less than one month later as a late replacement in a wild affair. Leben has never proven to be cut from the fabric of champions, but he has the grit and power to throw a curveball at a fight he's supposed to lose.
Saturday night's bout against Silva isn't one we should automatically assume Leben will lose. Despite Silva's legendary status as a relentless and devastating brawler of Brazilian roots, Leben has the chin and punching prowess to land a fateful blow against his opponent, even if he's completely out of gas and running on fumes.
In a nutshell, this is a fight that could go either way. A contest that relies solely on who will land more often and to what degree. Silva's long layoff from knee surgery could hurt his performance, but nobody is heralding Leben as an enormous obstacle after getting demolished by Brian Stann at UFC 125 in January.
Leben's granite chin and propensity to land blows despite being zombified by his opponent's advances are factors that lean many fans in his favor. Silva's long layoff looms, but he is a brutishly adventurous brawler who has the aggressiveness and skill to put away Leben. Both Leben and Silva will wobble each other in the first round of action, but I believe, inevitably, that Silva squeezes the extra energy he needs out of his hands to put away Leben by the second round.