Chris “The Crippler” Leben will have exactly two weeks to recover from his TUF 11 Finale knockout victory over Aaron Simpson last Saturday before he steps back into the cage against another highly-touted middleweight in Yoshihiro Akiyama. After news was released that Akiyama’s original opponent, Wanderlei Silva, had to be forced out of the bout due to three fractured ribs, the UFC began frantically searching for a replacement opponent in order to keep at least one of the co-main event fighters on the card. After some initial hesitance due to the fact that he fought less than a week ago, middleweight bruiser Chris Leben answered the call and agreed to face Akiyama on very short notice. Leben confirmed the story today through BJPenn.com.
“The UFC called me and they said Wanderlei was hurt and they want me to fight Akiyama,” explained Leben. “You know, I had a great showing on Saturday night, I left Vegas early, didn’t go out and party, hopped on the first flight home and I got the call the next day. I figured, ‘Hey, I’m still in great shape, I’m not hurt, a couple bumps and bruises but nothing bad’. With this opportunity, there was just no way I could turn down this opportunity it’s just huge.“
Leben told his interviewer that he first met the opportunity with reluctance but changed his tune when he remembered why he fights and also because he saw the chance to curry favor with his employers.
“At first I said no because I woke up in the morning, my phone was ringing and I was sore and it doesn’t make sense to take a fight when you’re not prepared and training for it,” he said. “But then as I thought about it, you know, I’m a fighter, this is what I do. Why would I not take a great opportunity? It would be stupid of me. Not to mention that but I want to be a company man with the UFC, I want them to be happy with me.“
As for how he plans to prepare for the Japanese Judo player on such short notice, Leben is banking on his coach’s expertise and intends to stick to his strengths come fight night.
“I don’t know a ton about Akiyama,” Leben admitted. “My coach knows a bunch, but we haven’t even had a chance to talk much about our game plan. I saw him fight Alan Belcher and to be honest with you, I thought he lost that fight. He’s a good Judo guy, he’s got great Judo, fast kicks, maybe not the most power in the world. He’s a little bit shorter than me but he’s a good strong guy. I think that utilizing my skills, keeping it on the feet and clubbing him in the head with my left shouldn’t be too much of a problem.“
Leben is taking a big risk fighting Akiyama on such short notice but those fighters that are willing to step up to the plate and fill in for an injured competitor usually gain major brownie points with the UFC and fans alike. “The Crippler” will square off against Akiyama in the co-main event of UFC 116 which will be headlined by Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin’s heavyweight championship unification bout. UFC 116 is going down next Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.