Chris Leben: 5 Possible Opponents for His UFC Return

Andrew Saunders@SaundersMMACorrespondent IIAugust 27, 2012

Chris Leben: 5 Possible Opponents for His UFC Return

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    The original bad boy of The Ultimate Fighter, Chris "The Crippler" Leben is nearly finished with a one-year suspension stemming from a failed drug test at UFC 138.

    Leben last fought in November, where he lost to Mark Munoz in the main event. The stoppage came after the second round when a cut over Leben's eye left him unable to see.

    Upon his return, Leben will look to get back to his winning ways, as The Crippler won four of his last five fights heading into the contest.

    Here is a look at five potential opponents for Chris Leben upon his return.

Costa Philippou

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    Since Leben's absence, middleweight Costa Philippou has won a trio of bouts against Jared Hamman, Court McGee and Riki Fukuda. Those wins have helped to elevate the Serra/Longo fighter's status within the organization tremendously.

    Now sitting at 4-1 in the UFC, Philippou is deserving of a step up in competition, and his heavy-handed southpaw style is similar to that of Leben.

    According to FightMatrix, Leben and Philippou are ranked No. 20 and No. 22 respectively in the middleweight division.

Patrick Cote

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    Canadian striker Patrick "The Predator" Cote is a knockout artist who has a chin made of granite. Sound like any other middleweights you can think of?

    Although he was released in 2010, Cote put together four wins on the independent circuit to earn a return trip to the big leagues at UFC 148.

    Unfortunately, Cote was unsuccessful in his promotional return. The bout came against Cung Le, and The Predator was outstruck en route to a decision loss.

    Leben and Cote battled back in 2005, and The Crippler won by split decision.

Tim Boetsch

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    The tale of Tim Boetsch is a success story that illustrates the importance of competing in the weight class in which your body is best suited.

    Once a light heavyweight who was unable to pick up any substantial momentum, Boetsch dropped to 185 pounds in 2011, and he hasn't looked back.

    And why would he? 4-0 in his new division, Boetsch has scored victories over big names like Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard. Granted, the Lombard win came via controversial decision.

    A bout with Leben is the kind of fight that Boetsch wants. He will have the opportunity to utilize the heavy hands that put Yushin Okami to sleep back in February.

Jake Shields

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    Similar to Chuck Liddell, Chris Leben uses his wrestling in reverse. That way, he can shut out takedown attempts and force opponents to strike against him.

    Jake Shields may be one of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world today, but his takedown skills are lacking and his standup skills are mediocre. A battle against Chris Leben is a stylistic matchup that hinges on the location of action.

    Can Shields work Leben to the canvas? If not, can Shields survive the striking of The Crippler?

Hector Lombard

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    Hector Lombard was scheduled to compete for the UFC at UFC 78 back in 2007. Unfortunately, visa issues forced the Cuban to withdraw from the event. Were it not for the difficulty in acquiring his services, Dana White could have booked Leben vs Lombard years ago.

    Lombard finally debuted with the organization at UFC 149 in a lackluster battle against Tim Boetsch. Unfortunately, the former Bellator champion looked slow and tentative. 

    It was later reported that Lombard entered the bout with a fractured sternum and torn cartilage. That would explain his lackluster performance, but it doesn't erase the loss from his record.

    Should Lombard be able to best a popular veteran like Leben, he could be back in the title picture by the end of next year.