At UFC 162, Chris Leben and Andrew Craig squared off in a battle of two heavy-striking middleweights. Even at 32 years old, Leben used his still-intact and legendary chin and toughness to avoid a third-round stoppage. Nevertheless, the younger, stronger, faster Craig got the better of his opponent in a split-decision victory in Saturday night's final free TV fight.
Leben (22-10) was the more aggressive of the two at the outset, but Craig (9-1) landed more strikes overall and used the clinch to control the action. Craig blended hard counter shots, big combinations, knees from the Thai plumm and even some late takedowns to wear away Leben's will and cruise to the win, which was more one-sided than the split decision might suggest.
What we'll remember about this fight
Along the fence in the third round, Craig landed a monstrous punch combination to put Leben on the mat. Craig stiffly but resolutely followed up but could not finish his stone-headed opponent. That sequence summed it all up.
What we learned about Chris Leben
His toughness, for better or worse, might extend his career a few more years, if Leben so desires. But he wasn't able to mount much offense beyond looking for a home for his vaunted left fist. The performance was not encouraging for a guy who recently switched camps and claimed to be in the best shape of his life coming into Saturday night.
What we learned about Andrew Craig
This doesn't establish 27-year-old Craig as a middleweight contender. He has some tools, but he's also a bit awkward. Before the fight, Craig essentially labeled himself Chris Leben 2.0. This fight, if nothing else, cemented that as the truth.
What's next for Leben
Despite the fact that he suffered his third straight loss, I'd be surprised if the UFC were to release Leben. Although, now that I think about it, he may be ripe for the plucking. He's 32 years old, seemingly running in place despite switching camps and perhaps aging in dog years.
At this age and level, a fighter needs more than a strong chin and a potent left hand.
At UFC 155—where Leben dropped a snoozer decision to Derek Brunson—only Junior dos Santos earned more among the losing fighters. Leben also made more than nine winning fighters, including Brunson, who took home $21,000 less than Leben. You don't think the UFC might want to jettison that ballast?
I love me some Leben. But the UFC, as it loves to remind people, is a business. If Dana White and company decide to part ways with Leben, another promotion would snap him up.
What's next for Craig
I'd love to see him test his skills against fast-rising young buck Antonio Braga Neto, who submitted Anthony Smith via first-round kneebar in June.