UFC 155: 4 Questions Facing Chris Leben in His Return

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2012

UFC 155: 4 Questions Facing Chris Leben in His Return

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    Veteran and fan favorite Chris 'The Crippler' Leben will return to the cage for the first time in over a year when he meets Strikeforce import Derek Brunson at UFC 155.

    Leben has long been a guy travelling a road of ups and downs, and after his last suspension for drug-related issues, most in the MMA community are simply hoping for a clean and healthy return to form for the TUF 1 alum.

    Some questions that have been raised about him include:

Can He Shake off the Ring Rust?

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    Most people subscribe to ring rust as being a very real problem that fighters have to face after a long layoff. Leben hasn't fought in a year and has lost two of his last three, so you have to wonder just what's left for a guy who's made his bones by just being tougher than most people he runs across.

    Still, for a man born into fighting the way Leben is, you have to think he'll be fine. In the gym, on the street, in a cage...fighting is fighting to The Crippler. Don't expect it to be too different against Brunson.

Is He a Strikeforce Welcoming Mat?

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    Due to the short notice and lack of publicity, Derek Brunson is being overlooked big time in this tilt. He's 9-2 with a questionable decision loss and a loss to one of the top 185ers out there in Jacare Souza, and one can't help but wonder if this is going to mark the beginning of an influx of Strikeforce talent.

    Leben has been in this position before, welcoming some Silva guy to the UFC in 2006. He was hyped up as a possible title contender, lauded for his improvement and natural durability, and was knocked stupid in about a minute. Now, that Silva guy hasn't lost since, but it's still something that's worth noting.

    This all happened by circumstance, as Leben's original opponent, Karlos Vemola, dropped out to be replaced by Brunson. Still, it's got something of a feeling of deja vu.

How Has He Gotten Better During the Layoff?

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    Leben has always been what he's always been: a guy who comes to slug it out. Sure, you'll occasionally see a surprise finish like his triangle of Akiyama, but the guy would rather throw punches until someone falls down.

    More often than not, the guy falling down has been the non-Leben participant in a Leben fight.

    But with a year to spend in the gym, what new tricks has he developed as he plies his trade in his adopted home of Hawaii? Has his wrestling improved? Have his submissions sharpened? Is he a more technical striker?

    There's no way to know until he's in the cage.

Is He Nearing the End of the Line?

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    Chris Leben might be the oldest 32-years-old in MMA. He's been around forever, was a young gun with the UFC right when it exploded, and has had more memorable middleweight wars than most guys on the roster have fights in the promotion.

    And they have been wars. Shot-for-shot, kill-or-be-killed slugfests are how Leben has come to be known, and those have to have taken their toll on his body.

    In a manner similar to the countless PRIDE greats who have aged at an alarming rate in recent years, one can't help but wonder if Leben might not have so much time left to do his thing in the octagon.

    The human body simply isn't designed to withstand the type of chaos Chris Leben has embraced during his career.

    Look for him to answer that one way or another on Saturday.