By Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
The list of potential challengers for Rich Franklin’s UFC Middleweight Title keeps growing, and one of the biggest new additions to the list is former Pride fighter Anderson Silva. Silva will make his official debut at Ultimate Fight Night this Wednesday night, June 28th, when he takes on Chris Leben, who has also been making some noise in the middleweight division.

When Anderson Silva steps into the octagon on Wednesday night, he will do so with a reputation for being one of the most devastating and dangerous strikers in the 185-pound division. While the only question mark that ever seems to arise about Silva’s game comes from his ground work, his hands and Muay Thai skills are pretty much unmatched in the middleweight division.

Silva previously trained alongside other top fighters like Wanderlei Silva at the Chute Boxe Academy in Brazil, and he continues to be one of the best stand-up fighters in the business. Earlier in his career, Silva spent time in Meca Vale Tudo and Shooto, where he was the middleweight champion. Eventually, Anderson made his Pride debut, defeating Alex Stiebling by TKO. Silva continued his winning ways with a decision victory over Alexander Otsuka and a highlight reel knockout victory over former UFC Welterweight Champion Carlos Newton.

As previously mentioned, Silva’s only downfall seems to be his ground work, and it showed in his last two fights in Pride. He lost to Daiju Takase in 2003 by a rolling triangle choke that was one of the most unique submissions ever seen. In his last Pride fight, he lost to Ryo Chonan by heel hook in 2004. It shouldn’t be overlooked that both of the fighters that defeated Silva in Pride are very experienced fighters with excellent submission skills.

Outside of his submission losses, any fighter who has tried to stand with Anderson Silva has soon regretted their decision. Lee Murray, who for all of his faults is actually a very good stand-up fighter, got absolutely dismantled for three rounds when he fought Silva in the Cage Rage promotion in 2004. Silva picked apart Jeremy Horn en route to a unanimous decision victory at an event in South Korea in mid-2004, and he also holds knockout wins UFC veterans Curtis Stout, Tony Fryklund, and Jorge Rivera. In Silva’s most recent loss, a defeat to Yushin Okami at Rumble on the Rock in Hawaii, he was disqualified for kicking a downed opponent. In a unique situation, Silva basically heel kicked Okami while holding him in his guard, which completely KO’d his opponent.

The simple fact is that Anderson Silva could be the most dangerous striker to step into the UFC since Chuck Liddell.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Chris Leben will hope to take one more step towards gaining the respect that he deserves and the title shot that he definitely wants. A win over a fighter of Anderson Silva’s caliber would go a long way towards accomplishing both of those goals. Since the first season of The Ultimate Fighter ended, Leben has been on a tear through the UFC and has looked like the fighter that he hyped himself to be when he was urinating on Jason Thacker’s bed during the filming of TUF 1.

Since the show ended, Leben has defeated Patrick Cote by decision in the UFC. He also knocked out Jorge Rivera in the first round of their match-up, a feat that could not be matched by Rich Franklin or Anderson Silva when they fought Rivera. Leben also took out Edwin Dewees by submission, and in his only lackluster fight, he won a decision over Luigi Fioravanti at the Ultimate Fight Night event in April of this year, but he got the victory nonetheless.

Leben is a very game fighter who has heavy hands and a chin of granite. He has been able to stand with other top strikers like Patrick Cote, and he also showed off his ground skills in his win over Edwin Dewees, who is an accomplished grappler. Leben has trained with top camps like Team Quest and Matt Hume’s Pankration, and if he shows up and looks ready, he could win against just about any opponent.

The pace and position of this fight is absolutely key, and the opening minute should determine much of the rest of the bout. Leben isn’t stupid, and he has to know that standing up and trading strikes with Anderson Silva could lead to his first knockout loss. No one has more technical standing skill than Anderson Silva in the 185-pound division, which makes sense given that Silva has trained in Muay Thai for most of his life.

Leben’s biggest advantage in this fight may be his strength and ability to go for the clinch and keep Silva pinned against the cage. He should be the stronger of the two fighters, and if he can work for a solid takedown, he may even be able to ground and pound his way to victory.

The flipside as it relates to the clinch is the fact that Silva has so much experience working from that position in Muay Thai that he may actually prefer that type of battle. Silva has some of the most powerful and precise kicks and knee strikes in the business. If he can get his hands behind Leben’s head, look for a flurry of knees to be unleashed. Another distinct advantage that Silva has is the fact that he will be able to use elbows, something he was never able to use in Pride. That could spell doom for Leben, who unfortunately has been shown to have a propensity for getting cuts on his head.

Either fighter could come out on top, and the UFC would still win. If Leben wins, the UFC has another former TUF contestant (who has his own celebrity after the success of the show) that could very easily be next in line for a title shot. If Anderson Silva wins, the UFC could easily match him up against Franklin, with the knowledge that a Fight of the Year candidate could ensue.

Overall, the Silva-Leben fight could be very close or it could be over quickly, depending on how and when they start to throw strikes. Will Leben understand the dangerous strikes that his opponent possesses and take him to the ground, or will Leben try to display his striking skills against the fighter who is arguably the best striker in the middleweight division?

While it’s not likely, will the fact that he’s making his debut in the UFC have any effect on Anderson Silva? The simple truth is that if Anderson Silva does what Anderson Silva is capable of, he could put on one of the most impressive performances in recent history. The UFC loves knockouts, and Silva truly is a knockout artist who overmatches just about anyone on his feet.

Prediction: Anderson Silva by TKO (referee stoppage) in Round 2