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Go Get Some Popcorn: Silva vs. Leben

The slugfest of 2011 may be happening this Saturday when Wanderlei Silva faces Chris Leben at UFC 132...

There are two kinds of fight fans. One loves the chess-like aspect of mixed martial arts. You know what I’m talking about. Two fighters surgically taking each other apart with a combination of punches, kicks, takedowns, positional changes in the clinch and on the ground, setting up submissions. These fans live for fighters like Georges St-Pierre, BJ Penn, Frank Mir, Demian Maia, Cain Velasquez, Rich Franklin, Urijah Faber and others who outthink their opponents, as much as “out-athlete-ing” them. These guys cite BJ Penn’s first win over Matt Hughes or Frank Mir’s bone-breaking submission against Tim Sylvia among their favorite moments.

The other type of fan is more primal. He or she may not understand much about the sport, other than knowing when one man takes a beating at the hands of another. These fans live for the gladiatorial aspect of MMA. They thirst for rock-em, sock-em robots. They watch Cheick Kongo survive a near knockout loss only to turn around seconds later and place Pat Barry among the land of the unconscious with a perfectly placed right bolo punch and rank it among the best fights they’ve ever witnessed, possibly second only to Forrest Griffin versus Stephan Bonnar.

Sure, I’m grossly generalizing. But the odds are that nearly everyone reading this article falls more or less into one of those two categories of fans. If you are the gladiatorial makeup, then UFC 132’s co-main event is must-see TV. It might even be the most highly anticipated matchup of 2011 to date.

Simply put, Wanderlei Silva versus Chris Leben is like pouring a truckload of ignited gasoline over a mountain of live dynamite. It is difficult to imagine any result other than a massive explosion.

Silva fights with unabashed aggression. He doesn’t know how to fight any other way. Actually, that is not true. Silva knows how to fight with as much technical precision as anyone in the middleweight division. This guy is a former PRIDE champion. A true living legend with Muay Thai skills for days and a black belt in jiu jitsu from Carlos Gracie Jr.—no small feat for those who know the Gracie standards. In other words, his arsenal is about as diverse as anyone in the UFC.

Fortunately for fans of slugfests, none of that technical precision matters once the action gets under way because Silva is a berserker by nature. He is a true apex predator without fear of being attacked and consumed by anyone. He loves nothing more than planting his feet and swinging for the fences with an opponent, without regard for his personal welfare or whether that is the most effective game plan.

Why? Simple. Silva personifies the phrase “savage beast.” Nothing makes him happier than to see another man lying beaten at his feat. He would rather vanquish an opponent than eat when he is hungry. That probably reads a bit hyperbolic, but it is true. Trust me on that one. Better yet. Seek out the opinion of anyone who has been watching PRIDE since the turn of the Millennium. They will co-sign on my description. Don’t take my word for it. Venture out and start asking questions.

What makes Saturday’s bout such a great fight for those of the gladiatorial persuasion is that Leben is cut from the exact same cloth as Silva. The formerly self-titled “Cat Smasher” loves a toe-to-toe scrap as much as anyone who has ever laced up a pair of vale tudo gloves. To support that claim, one merely need consider the fact that five of his last nine fights have won either Fight of the Night or Knockout of the Night.

Leben was either badly hurt or on his way to seemingly certain defeat in each of those fights. Yet, he found a way to win because he has no concept of the word “quit.” Well, that combined with a near impenetrable jaw, show-stopping power in his hands and the willingness to walk through brimstone and fire, if necessary, to win a fight.

Keep in mind that Leben is far more than just another barroom slugger. This guy is a complete mixed martial artist, just like Silva. He may not have a black belt, other than the one he uses to hold up his trousers, but he can slap on a quick submission the second someone disrespects his ground game. Just ask Yoshihiro Akiyama, Edwin Dewees and the other four cats he smashed via tap out.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Leben to shoot in for a takedown against Silva on Saturday. I’m sure he isn’t afraid of the Brazilian’s black belt. Not at all. I am equally sure that he wants to test himself on the feet against a guy he grew up idolizing in the sport.

We could spend hundreds upon hundreds of words breaking down the ins and outs of the fight. The Xs and Ox of each man’s offensive game. His tendencies. His weaknesses. What he needs to do to be successful.

This isn’t that kind of fight. This is one of those once in a while fights where nobody needs to say anything about game plans, keys to victory, etc. All anyone needs to do is pull up a chair and watch.

Are you a fanatical supporter of the sport? Then you know what I’m talking about, and you are just as excited about this matchup as I am. This is one of those fights you are afraid to record and watch later for fear that you might miss the experience of seeing a timeless war unfold live.

New to the game, possibly even a first-time onlooker? No problem. Every human understands a fight. You will never be confused or out of sorts during this matchup. This is going to be about as primal of a fistic explosion as we have seen in quite some time. Kongo-Barry was an amazing fight for as long as it lasted. I think Silva-Leben has the potential to surpass it in terms of thrilling, back-and-forth action.

Still want my version of what is going to happen? Ok. Here we go.

Silva will take the center of the cage as soon as the referee signals for the action to begin. He will look for any and every opportunity to uncork wild, rapid-fire hooks with both fists—rock’em, sock’em robots style. Guess what? Leben will be right there to accommodate him. Neither man spends a lot of time circling behind the jab. Rarely is either man willing take a step backward. A punch can send one reeling in that direction. But they don’t often willingly retreat.

What they do is stand their ground and swing away until somebody falls down or the round comes to an end. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

If that doesn’t describe a great fight, then I don’t know what else to write.

Actually, I do. I’m going to end with a reprint three paragraphs from my breakdown of Forrest Griffin versus Rich Franklin (with slight modifications to fit Silva and Leben) because they are equally applicable to this matchup.

Sure, each of these guys has his own distinct advantages over the other. Leben is probably the more technical of the two. Silva is the bigger, stronger man. Silva probably has a more polished submission game. Leben has a sturdier jaw. Both can knock out any middleweight in the world with a single shot.

But again, this fight isn’t about trying to compare their respective strengths and weaknesses. Not to me, at least. It is about grabbing your favorite beverage, sitting on the edge of your seat in the arena, on your couch or your favorite bar stool and watching two men bear their heart and soul inside the cage in an effort to entertain the fans and win a mixed martial arts contest.

To quote Donnie Brasco, “that, my friend, is a beautiful thing.”  And that, my friend, is why I will be watching on Saturday night. You should, too.


Wanderlei Silva
•    34 years old (turns 35 4 days after the fight)
•    5’11, 185 lbs
•    74-inch reach
•    33-10-1, 1 NC overall (25-9-1, 1 NC in the UFC/PRIDE)
•    1-0 at 185 lbs
•    2-3 in last 5 fights
•    4-6 in last 10 fights
•    2 of his 3 UFC wins and 15 of his 22 PRIDE wins have come by KO/TKO
•    Current layoff of 496 days is the longest of his professional career
•    Former PRIDE Middleweight Champion (93 kg)
•    Former PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix winner
•    Fight of the Night twice
•    Knockout of the Night once

Chris Leben
•    30 years old
•    5’11, 185 lbs
•    70.5-inch reach
•    21-7 overall (11-6 in the UFC)
•    6 of 11 UFC wins by KO/TKO
•    Entire UFC career at 185 lbs
•    Lost last fight to Brian Stann
•    3-2 in last 5 fights
•    5-5 in last 10 fights
•    Current layoff is 182 days
•    Longest career layoff is 315 days
•    Knockout of the Night three times
•    Fight of the Night twice