by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
A fighter fights.
That’s the mentality that Chris Leben took when UFC matchmaker Joe Silva called him just one day after returning home to Hawaii after a win over Aaron Simpson, asking him to step in and face Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 116.
Wiping the sleep from his eyes, Leben initially hesitated, his body still sore from his Simpson fight. Then instinct kicked in, and he quickly accepted the challenge.
“When I woke up on Monday I was pretty sore and was like ‘what, fight again? This is crazy.’ So at first I was like no, I don’t know, but then as I woke up I kind of realized, you know what I’m a fighter. This is what I do. I’m not hurt. It’s a great opportunity, not to mention that, but I get two fights out of one training camp,” Leben told MMAWeekly.com Radio on Tuesday.
Chances to get a co-main event fight are slim on the best day, but to get that opportunity and be able to help out the UFC when they’re in a jam, Leben just couldn’t say no.
“As a fighter, my window is limited,” said Leben. “I’m not going to be able to fight forever, and if you pass up a couple opportunities like this that could change your entire career. This is a career changing opportunity for me.”
Throughout his career, Leben has always been a fan favorite, and since moving to the UFC after his stint on the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” he’s always shown grit and toughness in his fights. Leben’s iron will, iron chin, and iron fist have also earned him quite a few victories.
“They’re really starting to realize, 15 fights in the UFC and I don’t think I have one where I wasn’t exciting,” commented Leben. “They know regardless, if they get Chris Leben on the card, they’re going to have a fight the fans are going to enjoy. I think when it comes to our sport, yes, we’re athletes; yes, we’re competitors; but we’re also entertainers as well.”
A former K-1 and Dream fighter, Yoshihiro Akiyama is making his second appearance in the Octagon. When original opponent Wanderlei Silva dropped out of the fight due to injury, Akiyama waivered on accepting the bout with Leben.
Leben believes that it’s Akiyama’s job to fight, and he needs to step up and honor his fight contract, and step in with him on Saturday night.
“The bottom line is everyone wants to fight Wanderlei. He’s a huge name, and maybe he’s a little easier to beat now than he was a couple years ago. So who doesn’t want that on their record? Unfortunately, Wanderlei got hurt and now he gets me,” Leben stated.
“The bottom line is he made a commitment to the company to fight, and he needs to step up and fulfill his commitments. If he’s so honorable and everything else, I don’t know why he’d be bitching about it. He needs to come in and do his job.
“They put him against me, that’s his job, come in and fight me.”
Breaking down Akiyama’s game as he gets ready for their UFC 116 showdown, Leben sees holes that he believes he can exploit, and one big problem that the Judoka falls prey to in a lot of his fights.
“He seems like he likes to get angry and lose his cool in fights,” said Leben. “I think I can sucker him to just standing and swinging with me, and trading with me, and as you know, that’s just a bad idea.”
Leben also knows one other major problem he’ll have to deal with at UFC 116, Yoshihiro Akiyama’s other persona, “Sexyama,” and his legion of screaming fans.
“You’re either a lover or a fighter,” said Leben with a laugh. “He’s ‘Sexyama,’ he’s got the loving part down, so he’s screwed. You can’t be both.”
Chris Leben will face Yoshihiro Akiyama Saturday night at UFC 116 in Las Vegas.