As the wake of UFC 116's main event between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin passes, it's time to look at the second biggest performance and story from Saturday's show - that of Chris Leben.
Leben defeated Yoshihiro Akiyama by third-round triangle choke Saturday, his second win in only two weeks. He took the fight with Akiyama fresh off beating Aaron Simpson by second-round TKO at The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale on June 19.
Leben's journey to the fight, one in which he would face the No. 11-ranked middleweight in the world, is a UFC-first. Although several fighters have fought on consecutive shows, no one has fought less than two weeks apart. So for Leben to come in on that short of notice, with two weight cuts, against someone the caliber of fighter Akiyama is, is the stuff MMA dreams are made of.
It's also how stars are born.
Leben gained much notoriety for his antics on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Now, with his thrilling win against Akiyama, he is gaining notoriety for a much different (and better) reason: His fighting skills.Leben and Akiyama put on a Fight of the Night-level performance. The up-and-down nature of the fight, one in which both Leben and Akiyama were badly hurt in the second round, was made even more interesting following the fight when the scorecards were released. All three judges had the fight even heading into the final round. It goes without saying the third round was close before Leben locked on the triangle. But with that one triangle, Leben, on a big night for the UFC, catapulted himself into superstardom.
Just like that, the UFC has another star on its hands. And you cannot deny Leben's performance carried a special aura with it. Even for the most casual of fan, it would've been difficult to not root for Leben as he walked down to the cage. He looked like he was on top of the world, jumping everywhere, just acting like he was on top of the world. Then the fight came. In the second round, both fighters teed off on each other. Leben stunned Akiyama, but Akiyama fired back with a shot that stopped Leben dead in his tracks. The two them stood in front of each other and wailed away at one another as the crowd went bonkers. The two traded wildly again near the end of the round. He put his arms out at the end of the second round and the crowd roared. He did so again as he prepared to come out for the third round and they got even louder.
It all paid off when he choked Akiyama out with 20 seconds left. Now he wants Wanderlei Silva. What a fight that would be.
"The Crippler" has never really been above the "mid-card" level in the UFC. Saturday was his 16th UFC fight. Sixteen UFC fights. Think about that. He is 11-5 in those 16 fights. And out of those 16 fights, he's been in one main event (against Michael Bisping on a Spike TV show in England). Of the six pay-per-view broadcasts he's been on, Saturday's was the highest he's ever been on the card.
Now, following that performance, I'd fully expect to see Leben at that level in his next fight. That's three wins in a row now. One more big win and we could see Leben getting a title shot. Who would've expected that?