By Ken Pishna, MMAWeekly.com
For the third edition of the UFC and SpikeTV’s Ultimate Fight Night they have finally put together an inspiring card that doesn’t have to rely solely on recent participants of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). Although Chris Leben is a season one TUF veteran, his brotherhood is actually in the minority for this show.
For Ultimate Fight Night 3, the UFC has brought in some fighters that have been in the UFC before and are earning their way back to a shot at pay-per-view glory as well as some newer talent that has yet to be seen in a UFC event. Leben’s opponent, Jorge Rivera, falls into the first category.
In September of 2003, Rivera made his successful Octagon debut, launching himself into the ranks of the UFC middleweight contenders by defeating Canadian, and now number one ranked middleweight, David “The Crow” Loiseau. Maybe it was too much too fast as Rivera then dropped his next bout, at UFC 46, to a very tough Lee Murray. But Rivera wasted no time gaining entry back into the UFC and took current champion Rich Franklin to the wire before submitting to an arm bar less than a minute before the final bell.
The loss to Franklin again left Rivera on the outside of the Octagon looking in, but it didn’t slow him down. The Massachusetts Submission Academy fighter took the loss to heart and has gone 3-1 since, losing only to Anderson Silva and defeating the likes of Dennis Hallman and Alex Reid. On January 16th, he finds himself returning to the Octagon once again, this time to face Leben.
Following a much different path to the UFC, Chris Leben will be making his fourth UFC appearance since graduating from The Ultimate Fighter. He may have lost twice on the reality show (those bouts were counted as exhibitions and not declared on the fighters’ official records), but Leben has since gone 3-0 in the UFC with the sole loss of his career coming at the hands of fellow UFC veteran Joe Doerksen at the Freestyle Fighting Championships in Biloxi, Mississippi.
At first glance, and second glance, and third… you get the picture… this fight appears to have all the makings of a stand up war. Sure, Leben has trained for many years with Team Quest and is also working with Matt Hume now up in Washington, but make no bones about it, Leben is a strong kid that loves to throw down. And when he throws down, he likes to throw bombs. Just ask Mike Swick. Leben had his cage rattled by Swick in the first round of their bout at WEC 9 before coming out in the second and knocking Swick cold just 18 seconds in. Or talk to Benji Radach about his broken jaw via the hands of Leben.
Then again, this fight isn’t chalked up as a stand up battle just because of Leben’s propensity to drop the hammer down. Rivera is also known for his desire to trade blows. He and Loiseau put on a veritable Muay Thai clinic in the fight that launched Rivera’s UFC career and he and Franklin were knocking each other silly before Franklin had finally had enough and went with the arm bar instead. Yes, Rivera is schooled in submissions, that much should be obvious considering his training with Keith Rockel at the Massachusetts Submission Academy, but again, his love is for the art of striking.
In short, Leben and Rivera both like to stand and trade, both are good at it, and that is what they will do. The question is only, “Who’s stand up style will win out?” As stated, Leben’s style is a much more raw, bone-crunching, power game while Rivera has a much more Muay Thai-influenced technical style. That’s not to say that Rivera can’t lay the hammer down as well, it’s just that he looks much sharper doing it.
This is an important fight with the winner most liking putting himself in position to challenge the winner of the Rich Franklin vs. David Loiseau fight in March. Just who will win probably comes down to a couple of different factors. Though both fighters have a fair amount of experience and successes, Rivera is about eight years older than Leben. His strength in maturity has been seen as a week point in Leben’s game. The other factor is the means with which each fighter uses to get to the end. Again, while Leben’s power cannot be denied, his technical ability is open to scrutiny while Rivera’s technique is sharp as a razor, as are his elbows.
If Leben can keep from getting cut up by Rivera’s slashing style, not a given considering his fight with Kenny Florian on TUF, or if he can land big early, he has a very good shot at taking Rivera out and moving a step closer to title contention. With the odds stacked a little more in his favor, Rivera’s chin has passed the test before as witnessed by his fights with both Loiseau and Franklin, and he should be able to land blows at about a rate of three to every one of Leben’s. He probably won’t be able to knock him out, but his style lends itself to opening up fight ending cuts.
This is a tough one to call. I’d lean in favor of technique over brawn, but I wouldn’t lay any money down on this one. It should be a classic battle with a good shot at “Fight of the Night” honors.