Few fighters have a more fan-friendly style than Chris Leben and Wanderlei Silva.
The kill-or-be-killed strikers will go toe-to-toe in the center of the Octagon at UFC 132 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. this Saturday night.
For Leben, reverence for the former PRIDE 205-pound titleholder who reigned over Japan for five years as champion results in a Fight of the Night, Fight of the Year, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"I always wanted to fight Wanderlei Silva. I've been kind of jokingly talking about it with friends for years. It'd be great if he came down. I know he fought Rich Franklin at '95 and da, da, da, maybe I can go up to fight him—whatever,” The Ultimate Fighter alumni told Bleacher Report. “When I stepped in and fought [Yoshihiro] Akiyama for him, I felt that that earned me the shot."
The dramatic third-round submission win against Akiyama was Leben’s second victory in two weeks—the rarest of accomplishments in the UFC. Silva has been without a belt since 2007, but his legendary stature in the sport causes even the most grizzled veteran like Leben to speak of earning a shot simply to face him as if he still held a belt.
With a fight anyone, anywhere, anytime attitude, Leben admitted, "It's one of the few fights I've really, really wanted. I'm excited about it."
The flu bit Leben before a New Year’s Day 2011 defeat where Brian Stann became the first fighter to (T)KO him since Anderson Silva five years earlier. Despite the stunning first-round loss, the Hawaii-based fighter is optimistic the setback hasn’t hurt his stride going into a fight with “The Axe Murderer.”
"I think the timing and the way everything is working out is absolutely perfect for me," he said. "This is the best Chris Leben 100 percent. This is the best I've ever been. I can't wait to show that come Saturday night.”
Leben credits his family, friends and training partners with helping him stick to his diet more so than any other bout in his career. Never missing a chance to pay respect to his opponent for this contest, Leben extended his gratitude toward the Brazilian for a stellar training camp.
“Also, I got to thank Wanderlei for that because there's nothing more motivating than the fear of a coma.,” said the nine-year veteran. “The thought of me fighting Wanderlei is really giving me the power to do everything I do for my diet, everything I need to do in the training room."
“The Crippler” battling “The Axe Murderer” sets lofty expectations for violence. Leben color-coordinated his favorite pre-fight ritual—painting his hair—accordingly.
"I went with the classic blood red, the whole deal because I need as much power as I can get. For me, it changes things,” he said of dyeing his hair. “I look in the mirror, I see my hair is on. I know that's my game face. I know its time to go to work."
Nineteen fights into his UFC career, Leben longs for the defining moments a slugfest brings forth. Win or lose, he can count on Silva to contribute memorable exchanges to a career built on starching opponent’s brain cells.
A title is nice and sure it’s the goal, but fans remember two fighter’s fearlessly throwing down like they do belts. What Leben lacks in gold he guarantees he makes up for in entertainment value.
“I just want to have epic fights where people can go back and say, ‘Your career is like a highlight reel,’” concluded Leben.
Follow Danny Acosta on twitter.com/acostaislegend.