by Mick Hammond
If there is any fight scheduled for Spike TV’s first ever Ultimate Fight Night that has the possibility of being fight of the evening even before the first bell sounds, it is the fight between Chris Leben and Patrick Cote. This is because of all the fights slated for the evening’s action, this one features two fighters with a similar fighting style and at a nearly identical place in their careers, even if they had very different ways of reaching the points that they find themselves at.

Chris Leben’s route to Ultimate Fight Night has been highly publicized thanks to The Ultimate Fighter reality series. But even before he became an almost overnight sensation on that show, Leben’s hard work and devastating striking had him already on the road to success.

After going undefeated in his amateur days, this Team Quest fighter had developed a reputation for being one of the toughest young fighters coming out of the Northwest. With a strong chin, hard punching, and growing submission skills, Leben won his first four pro fights, taking the WEC Middleweight Championship in the process.

Upon losing his first, and only, match to Joe Doerksen via a very hotly contested decision in mid 2004, Leben returned victorious over Benji “Razor” Radach at Sportfight 7, breaking Radach’s jaw in viscous fashion. Then Chris earned the opportunity of a lifetime, to compete in the first ever season of The Ultimate Fighter for Spike TV and the UFC.

Leben quickly became the show’s breakout star, regardless of being eliminated twice; due to his charismatic and at times confrontational personality. On the show’s finale he dominated a clearly overmatched Jason Thacker to a TKO victory in just over a minute and a half. But still the question remains; who is the real Chris Leben?

Is he the fighter that was eliminated twice from TUF or is he the “Red Terror” that has gone virtually undeterred in his young career? Is he truly one of the best rising talents in the sport or an overrated victim of television hype? At Ultimate Fight Night, Leben will be looking to answer all the questions surrounding him as he takes on one of the toughest challenges of his career in Patrick Cote.

Cote for his behalf has failed in the eyes of many to live up to the hype created for him before his UFC debut at UFC 50. Up until losing his first ever bout to former UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz, Cote was seen as one of the top 205lb prospects around.

Prior to his match with Ortiz, Cote had rampaged throughout the Canadian fight scene, convincingly defeating everyone in his path, including future UFC fighter Bill Mahood, on his way to the Canadian Light-Heavyweight Championship. Then he was thrust into the main event at UFC 50 against Ortiz due to medical problems with Ortiz’s original opponent, Guy Mezger.

Clearly out of his element, Cote was dominated by Ortiz all three rounds of their fight, and shortly afterwards it was announced that Cote would be dropping down to the middleweight division. With the hopes that the change would be a beneficial one, Cote managed to eek out a split decision against Ricardeau Francois in Canada before returning to the UFC to face Joe Doerksen at UFC 52.

Unfortunately the second time in the UFC was more heartbreaking than his debut, as again Cote failed to gain victory, this time after seemingly dominating Doerksen the majority of the bout. But in true Doerksen form, Joe pulled a win out of near defeat, submitting Cote and again adding more fuel to Cote’s detractors’ fire.

So now Cote sits in the same place that his opponent is at. Both must win the fight in order to continue their quest with the UFC and cut down questions about them in the process.

The strategy for both fighters is simple, hit their opponent hard, often, and see if they go down. Neither Cote nor Leben are known for their submission skills, although both do contain a fair amount of skill in that area. Simply put this fight looks to be an all-out brawl on paper and when it comes down to it, these two young fighters will revert to their aggressive nature should things break down technically.

A win for either fighter will see them continue in the UFC and continued development towards a possible title shot in a couple years. A loss could see the loser sent packing out of the UFC for some time to come. Leben however has more leverage thanks to his TUF contract, making Cote’s future less certain due to the fact this is the third fight of a three-fight deal he signed before facing Ortiz.

There is no denying that Chris Leben and Patrick Cote are two of the most talented and explosive young fighters in the middleweight division. Both have a lot of hype to live up to and a lot of questions to answer. Whether or not they can do that is up to them. You can be sure though that regardless of who triumphs in the fight, the fans ultimately win. With a lot on the line for both competitors, this should be one of the most electrifying fights of the night.