by Mitch Gobetz – MMAWeekly.com
It wasn’t too long ago that Chris Leben was one of the top contenders to face then Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder Rich Franklin. That was until Leben ran into the buzz saw that is Anderson Silva. Instead of solidifying himself as the number one contender, he found himself going back to the drawing board.

Leben then knocked out Jorge Santiago in his first fight after his loss to Silva. Unfortunately, Leben would succumb to back-to-back losses to Jason MacDonald and Kalib Starnes. While many fighters would get a lesser opponent after dual losses, Leben was sent to face the very tough Chicago native Terry Martin, who had been on a four-fight winning streak.

Martin was winning even though Leben was making a good fight out of it. However, Martin decided to engage in a punching exchange with the iron-jawed Leben that ended up being his fate. Leben landed a clean shot to Martin’s jaw rendering him unconscious.

That win was a significant win for Leben, especially as he starts to climb the ladder back into the middleweight title picture. “It was a close fight,” reflected Leben. “I was probably on the down side according to the judges. It was a huge win for me.”

That fight was huge for Leben because it was also his last fight on his original contract with the UFC. Despite some rumblings a few months ago that Leben may leave the promotion at the end of his contract, “The Crippler” has recently resigned a new deal that will keep him with the UFC for two more years. While he may have gotten a raise, he’s also very happy that he gets to stay with the number one mixed martial arts organization in the world.

“For me, so far things have worked out well in the UFC,” said Leben. “I just wanted to feel like I was getting respect. I love the UFC. They are the biggest and the best.”

Leben will have the opportunity to build on his winning streak at UFC 82 on Saturday night, when he faces Alessio Sakara, who is moving down from light heavyweight. He is making his middleweight debut against Leben.

Sakara is known for his above average boxing skills and standing toe-to-toe with almost anyone that he has faced. That kind of matchup intrigues Leben because that’s his style of fighting as well. Even though he expects Sakara to stand up and bang with him, that doesn’t mean that Leben doesn’t have a set game plan in place.

“Obviously, I will adapt my game plan for anyone I fight. I’ve watched the tape on him. I know how he likes to fight. Of course I have a game plan for that.”

Even though Leben just knocked out a tough contender in Martin, he doesn’t feel slighted that he is taking on Sakara in his first 185-pound fight. “Everybody is tough at 185. He’s got to fight somebody. One thing is for sure; it’s guaranteed to be an exciting matchup.”

A former Team Quest member, Leben moved to Hawaii and has been training out there for quite some time now. He still works out with Matt Hume and has a close relationship to several fighters from Team Quest, but he enjoys living in Hawaii.

How does he motivate himself to train in such a beautiful place? “It actually makes it easier when you get up and go running, when it’s nice and sunny outside,” he commented. “It’s kind of low key. I live across the street from the gym, so I wake up and go across the street and train. It makes it real easy for me.”

Leben has the opportunity to put on another very exciting performance against Sakara, since both fighters are likely to stay in the pocket and throw down. However, he has a specific plan for Sakara, which he plans on implementing.

“My plan is to push the pace. My cardio is great right now. I’m going to go full speed for three rounds. I’m gonna put him in the pressure cooker and take him into deep water to see how he handles it.”