You see some interesting things in Las Vegas at six on a Sunday morning. Nearly two weeks ago, Chris Leben was leaving The Palms hotel, catching a cab to the airport following his stirring Knockout of the Night win over Aaron Simpson the night before.
As ‘The Crippler’ waiting to load up his bags, he was approached by a couple who looked to have had too many adult beverages. The woman asked for a picture, and Leben obliged with no hesitation. The man asked the middleweight contender if he could fight him later.
Yes, fight him later.
Leben, having been in situations like this before, simply turned and opened the cab door, saying “I did my work last night.”
“But that was your jobbbbbbbbbbbbb,” came the response.
The cab sped away, and soon Leben was on his way back home to Hawaii. He wasn’t scheduled to leave until 3pm that Sunday, but decided to catch an earlier flight. It was a far cry from the “old” Chris Leben, who admitted with a laugh, “The old Chris Leben would have still been at a club.”
And that’s really the story heading into Leben’s UFC 116 co-main event bout against Yoshihiro Akiyama this Saturday night. Not that he has matured enough to ignore drunk ‘fans’ in incidents he simply calls “pretty funny”, but that he has matured enough in life to put the partying scene behind him, stick to a strict training regimen, and take his career so seriously that a couple days after a fight with one of the division’s top prospects, he was willing to step back in there exactly two weeks later.
“It’s a great fight and an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” said Leben, who wasn’t exactly feeling that way when he initially got the call from the UFC on the Monday after his fight to replace the injured Wanderlei Silva against Akiyama.
“I woke up and I was all sore, and Joe (Silva) was already calling me,” said Leben. “He asked me to fight and I said no way. But the more I thought about it, I’m a fighter, that’s what I do. I’d be mad at myself if I passed this opportunity up. This is what I do. I’ll have plenty of opportunity to take a vacation after July 3rd.”
Immediately after accepting the fight, Leben kicked things back into gear, got trainer Burton Richardson and longtime training partner Nate Quarry on the phone, and it was business as usual. And as far as Leben was concerned, it didn’t matter who was going to be standing across from him on fight night, he was raring to go.
“My coaches know a lot more about him than I do,” said Leben of Akiyama. “Burton Richardson’s real familiar with him. Besides that, I remember the fight with Alan Belcher (at UFC 100), and I thought he lost that fight. I think he’s basically a little slower version of the guy I just fought (Aaron Simpson). He’s an awesome judo player, he’s got fast kicks, but I don’t think he’s got near the wrestling that Aaron Simpson has and I don’t think he’s got knockout power.”
Leben does have KO power though, something that was never more evident than on June 19th, when he scored his 11th career knockout (in 20 wins) over the previously unbeaten Simpson, a 3 to 1 favorite heading into the bout. The 29-year old Leben disregarded the odds, ate some shots, and then delivered his own, halting his foe in the second round in one of his best UFC performances to date. Leben said things couldn’t have gone any better.
“Everything for that fight worked like clockwork,” said the Oregon native, who has now won two in a row and four of his last six. “The weight came off like clockwork, my training worked out perfect, and everything fell into place, and that showed in the fight. I went into the fight not injured for the first time in a long time, and surprisingly enough, I left the fight not injured either, so I feel real good.”
And now he’s ready to do it again. Funny, the interesting things you see in Vegas, and watching Chris Leben fight twice in two weeks is definitely on top of the list.