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The Breakdown: Anderson Silva vs. Chris Leben
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on June 14, 2006, 12:56 PM

The Breakdown: Anderson Silva vs. Chris Leben

Ultimate Fight Night Live

When highly rated Middleweight fighter Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship in late April, the first rumor that appeared regarding his debut fight claimed he’d be facing David Loiseau on an Ultimate Fight Night card some time in the summer. Well, the card for the June 28th UFN event has now been released, and while Silva will make his debut in the main event, his opponent will not be ‘The Crow’. Instead, the UFC has put together one of the more intriguing Middleweight fights of 2006. Silva’s opponent? None other than TUF alumni Chris ‘The Crippler’ Leben. So here’s the breakdown.

Name: Anderson Silva
Nickname: The Spider
Born: Parana, Brazil
Fighting Out Of: Curitiba, Brazil
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 185lbs
MMA Record: 15-4-0
Style: Muay Thai/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Background: After early fights with Brazilian Vale Tudo promotions, the name of Anderson Silva first became prominent in MMA in late 2001, when he defeated the then-undefeated Hayato ‘Mach’ Sakurai via decision to claim the Shooto Middleweight Title. Training with the highly touted Chute Boxe Academy at this time, Silva was actually scheduled to make his UFC debut at UFC 34 in November 2001, facing Carlos Newton for the Welterweight Title, but this ended up falling through, as there was some controversy surrounding exactly what contract Silva had signed. To cut a long story short, Silva ended up going to PRIDE, and the man who replaced him in the Newton fight turned out to be Matt Hughes. Funny how things pan out in the end.

At any rate, Silva debuted in Japan’s PRIDE Fighting Championships in June of 2002 in the heavier 183lbs category (he had fought at 170lbs beforehand), putting an end to the ‘Brazilian Killer’ Alex Stiebling’s winning streak in devastating fashion – landing a high kick that sliced Stiebling’s head open like a melon en route to a doctor’s stoppage. Silva would go on to win another two fights under the PRIDE banner during this period, first gaining a decision victory over Alexander Otsuka in which he primarily showed off his impressive Jiu-Jitsu skills, and then in March 2003, he finally got to fight Newton, (albeit in a different promotion in a different weight class) and after an exciting opening period, Silva knocked ‘The Ronin’ out with a flying knee to the head. After only three fights in PRIDE, Silva had risen to the top of the weight class, and a fight with Dan Henderson to determine PRIDE’s first 183lbs champion was talked about by the announcers on various broadcasts. However, the Brazilian would soon hit a roadblock. In a fight at PRIDE 26 against Daiju Takase, Silva fought like a shadow of the man who had taken out Newton and Stiebling so impressively, and was submitted with a triangle choke late in the first round. It would be the last we would see of Silva in PRIDE for over a year.

After a fight against a lesser opponent in Brazil, Silva returned to prominence in mid-2004, no longer under the Chute Boxe banner, but with his own team – the Muay Thai Dream Team. He defeated the highly ranked Jeremy Horn via decision on a Korean card, and then produced arguably his most impressive display to date, picking apart British striker Lee Murray at Cage Rage 8 to capture their Middleweight crown. These two wins were enough to earn Anderson another ticket to PRIDE, but in his return fight, he was unable to produce the form that had seen him defeat Murray so impressively, and on the other side of the coin, his opponent, Ryo Chonan, produced the performance of a lifetime. After an exciting fight, Chonan came out the victor following a remarkable diving heel hook submission. Since then, Silva has returned to the Cage Rage promotion and made their Middleweight division his home, viciously stopping Jorge Rivera, Curtis Stout, and Tony Fryklund, all by strikes. The lone loss on his record in 2006 is a controversial one – he knocked out Yushin Okami with an up-kick in the Rumble on the Rock Welterweight tournament, but was disqualified as the rules stated that you cannot kick a downed opponent.

Strengths: Silva’s striking is arguably unrivalled at 185lbs in terms of technique. Where other fighters produced by Chute Boxe tend to be wild and reckless with their strikes (Wanderlei Silva, Luiz Azeredo), Anderson is anything but. His striking style is classic Muay Thai, with a heavy importance placed on knees and leg kicks. The strength of Silva’s leg kicks was shown no better than in the Murray fight – while Murray continually looked for the big knockout punch, Silva stayed on the outside and concentrated on leg kicks, slamming his shin into Murray’s thighs so often that before long, the British fighter’s movement was completely taken away from him, and this enabled Silva to pick him apart using the rest of his arsenal. Recently people have been talking about Silva’s dangerous elbow strikes, and he showed this off by knocking Tony Fryklund out with a unique elbow strike to the head that he has since christened the ‘Anderson Elbow’. And as Alex Stiebling can attest to, Silva’s shins are like razorblades, and a kick in the right place can easily slice a forehead wide open.

While Silva is widely known as a striker, this doesn’t mean that he lacks a ground game. Anderson holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and while he hasn’t actually submitted anyone in an MMA fight, he did run a submission clinic on Alexander Otsuka, transitioning from armbars to triangle chokes to leglocks with sublime skill. And although Otsuka proved impossible to finish, I feel that Silva is a highly dangerous competitor on the ground should he be forced to use his submissions. And while his wrestling and ground-and-pound probably isn’t on the level of some of the other fighters in the weight class, don’t think Silva can’t do that either – not wanting to trade strikes with the powerful Curtis Stout, Silva immediately took him down, and spent the round pounding on him from the top en route to a KO. Needless to say, Anderson Silva is a well-rounded competitor who is certainly able to fight in any area of the game.

Weaknesses: A look at his record would probably suggest that Silva’s kryptonite is submissions, but watching his fights, I don’t think this is fair. Silva was able to avoid the submissions of Carlos Newton on the mat, and Newton is an extremely skilled submission artist. I’d be more inclined to say Silva’s biggest weakness is a psychological one. Whether it’s down to taking opponents lightly, or simply mental lapses ala Kevin Randleman, in the fights that he’s lost, it has been as if the real Anderson Silva just didn’t turn up. I believe that nine times out of ten, Anderson Silva would probably defeat Daiju Takase with ease – but watching their fight, you would never believe that Silva is on the same level as Takase, never mind ranked by most fans far above the Japanese journeyman. The Chonan fight was just as bad a showing for Silva – Chonan, who has hardly looked like a world-class striker in later fights, actually outstruck Silva standing before catching him with the submission. Comparing that fight to the Murray fight would make you believe that Silva had a less-skilled twin brother.

The bottom line? When he’s ‘on’, Anderson Silva is near unstoppable. But when he’s not, if you’re his opponent, you’re in luck. And although we haven’t seen the ‘bad’ Anderson Silva for four fights now, who’s to say when he’ll next emerge?

Tactics?: I suspect Silva will want to fight Leben like he’s fought other brawlers on his record – stay on the outside, and pick him apart en route to a decision, cut stoppage, or TKO.

Name: Chris Leben
Nickname: The Crippler
Born: Portland, Oregon
Fighting Out Of: Seattle, Washington
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 185lbs
MMA Record: 15-1-0
Style: Freestyle

Background: Before he rose to fame on the Ultimate Fighter TV series, Chris Leben was known in the MMA community as one of the hottest rising stars out of Randy Couture’s Team Quest camp. Going into 2005, Leben was sporting an impressive record of 10-1, with the lone loss coming via decision to Joe Doerksen in an incredible fight in the FFC promotion – a fight that saw Leben pull out one of the most ridiculous armbar escapes that you’ll ever see in MMA. Leben’s biggest wins at the time were over American Kickboxing Academy’s rising star Mike Swick (KO), and UFC veteran Benji Radach (Doctor Stoppage).

When the first season of The Ultimate Fighter began, Leben was the first fighter to gain notoriety on the show, as his excesses over the first few episodes (constant boasting about his record, heavy drinking, “spritzing” Jason Thacker’s bed) provided the show with much of it’s early spark. TUF would not be kind to Leben though, as, after a horrible argument that saw Leben smash his way through a door, he was eliminated from the show when Josh Koscheck used his tremendous wrestling skill to hold Chris down en route to grinding out a two-round decision. When Nate Quarry injured his ankle later in the show, Leben was brought back to replace him, but once again fate was against him, and in the semi-final match with Kenny Florian – a match that Leben was dominating – ‘Kenflo’ caught him with a slashing elbow that opened a cut over Leben’s eye, causing the fight to be stopped.

Since the reality show ended though, Leben has been highly impressive since coming into the UFC ‘proper’. Moving from Team Quest to Matt Hume’s AMC Pankration camp, Leben has cleaned up his act and improved greatly as a fighter for it. His first victim in UFC was the hapless Jason Thacker – he was dispatched quickly on the TUF Finale undercard via strikes in the first round. Next, Leben took a split decision victory over Canadian brawler Patrick Cote at the first Ultimate Fight Night, and on the second show he defeated Edwin Dewees with a first round armbar. Leben’s most impressive victory to date followed, as he stopped tough veteran Jorge Rivera with a left hook in the first round, after taking a series of punches from Rivera that would’ve put many fighters out. Most recently, Leben won a lopsided decision over newcomer Luigi Fioravanti at April’s edition of UFN. The only fighter to be present on all of the UFC’s free-TV cards, this fight is Leben’s big chance to break into the upper echelon of the Middleweight rankings, and prove himself a worthy contender to Rich Franklin’s crown.

Strengths: While he’s not the most technically proficient striker, there’s no doubt that Chris Leben carries power in his punches, as both Mike Swick and Jorge Rivera can definitely attest to. In striking exchanges though, Leben’s biggest advantage is his iron chin. We’ve seen him take shots from the likes of Swick, Cote, and Rivera – known knockout punchers – and simply carry on trading like nothing had happened. In fact, I can’t remember seeing Leben even rocked or stunned by a punch. Leben’s chin is up there with Nogueira and Mark Hunt’s as one of the very best in the game. This means that where other fighters would shy away from trading punches with highly touted strikers, Leben will fearlessly exchange shots, and usually, due to his chin, he’s the one left standing.

Coming originally from the Team Quest camp, there’s no doubt that Leben’s wrestling is a formidable weapon, too. Forget the loss to Koscheck for a second – Josh is as skilled a wrestler as any in MMA right now – Leben has shown proficient wrestling skill and a decent ground and pound attack against Thacker and Fioravanti, even if he was unable to stop the latter. In terms of submissions, in UFC we’ve only seen a glimpse of what he has to offer, that being the armbar submission of Edwin Dewees, but going in it was thought that Dewees was probably the better ground fighter, and in the afore mentioned fight with Doerksen, Leben was able to stay in the game with a very experienced and skilled submission fighter. Even when caught in what looked like a tight armbar, Leben stayed cool and was eventually able to escape. And training with Matt Hume’s AMC group now, you’ve got to think his ground game is improving day by day.

Weaknesses: The loss to Doerksen notwithstanding (it was a long time ago and a close fight, to boot), Leben’s last two losses came in the taping of the reality show. The loss to Florian was probably the most heartbreaking for Leben, as it was a fight he was clearly winning until Kenny landed the elbow that opened up the cut. I can’t personally remember Leben bleeding badly in any of his other UFC bouts, but after the Florian fight there’s no question that Leben will bleed badly if he’s cut. And Chris himself acknowledges this – on his most recent blog he mentions that he cuts easily. And for a fighter like Anderson Silva, that has to be music to his ears.

Leben’s other loss on the show came to Josh Koscheck. As I mentioned above, Koscheck used his phenomenal wrestling skill to take Leben down on multiple occasions, and although he was unable to do that much damage to Chris while he was on his back, he was able to keep him there and grind out the decision. While you could look at this in the view that Koscheck could probably do that to anyone, it could also be said that Leben’s emotions towards Koscheck made him an easier target for multiple takedowns. If Leben had been able to channel his rage and time his strikes better, the result may have been different. And this ties into Leben’s other weakness – while he’s a powerful striker with an iron chin, his stand-up is technically not that great. And against a more technical striker, this may come back to haunt him.

Tactics?: At a guess, Leben will want to draw Silva into a trade-off in order to test his chin. If he’s unable to do that, or if Silva hurts – or more likely, cuts – him, we may see Leben attempt to take Silva down and utilize ground-and-pound tactics.

How It Breaks Down: With records like 15-1 and 15-4, you can almost guarantee that this fight won’t be a one-sided shutout. Both men are dangerous standing and on the ground, and both men have a lot of experience in the big shows at this point. Whoever wins this one will likely end up taking the next shot at Rich Franklin and the Middleweight Title, it’s that important of a fight.

I think you’ve got to look at how both men have done against similar opponents in the past. Leben, despite his good record and success in UFC, has never fought anyone like Anderson Silva. The most technical striker Leben has fought is probably Mike Swick, and no disrespect intended, Silva’s Muay Thai is on another level. Leben has done well against the opponents he’s been lined up with, but Cote, Rivera and (on paper) Fioravanti all had styles that played into Leben’s hands in that they’re brawlers with a tendency to trade. That style just isn’t going to work against Chris Leben. Silva, on the other hand, has fought numerous brawling characters like Leben, and every time out, he’s had success. Tony Fryklund barely lasted two minutes, and while Leben put Rivera away quickly and impressively, Silva viciously beat him down in a manner that was almost disturbing to watch, openly laughing as Rivera hit him numerous times flush in the face, before opening up with a barrage of knee strikes as nasty as you’ll see in MMA.

The closest comparison to this fight I can think of is probably Silva’s fight with Lee Murray. Like Leben, Murray was known as a heavy striker with serious knockout power, and he arguably had a reputation as more of a technical striker than Leben, too. While Silva was unable to put Murray away, the way he dealt with the tough Englishman was something to behold. One of the closest things to a Muay Thai clinic you’ll see in MMA, Silva picked Murray apart with leg kicks from the outside, never allowing him a chance to land his vaunted left hand, and worked him over with knees, high kicks and heavy punches. Is Chris Leben as tough as Lee Murray? Probably, but I highly doubt that’ll make a difference to Anderson Silva. Do I think Silva can stop Leben? Unless he can cut him badly, I doubt it. But on the other side of the coin, do I think Leben can stop Silva? I don’t think Anderson will give him the chance. I envision a fight somewhat like Silva’s fight with Murray – Leben looking for the single knockout punch throughout the fight, but Silva simply using his Muay Thai to avoid it and methodically picking Chris apart over the three rounds.

Verdict?: Anderson Silva by Unanimous Decision.

And, that’s that for the first edition of ‘The Breakdown’. As this is my first non-review MMA column, any criticism or feedback is welcome, and you can either e-mail me at OratoryNewman@gmail.com, or alternately, head to the forums and drop some feedback there.

Until next time....

Scott Newman

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