Tuesday, June 21, 2011 | 6:30 p.m.
If Wanderlei Silva and Chris Leben toss punches with as little caution as they have spit words to hype their meeting, then the UFC 132 crowd at Mandalay Bay in two weeks is in for a thrill.
Silva (33-10-1 MMA, 3-5 UFC) and Leben (25-7 MMA, 11-6 UFC) requested a fight and called each other out for nearly a year before UFC brass scheduled the bout for the co-main event of the July 2 card. With the fight nearing, the two fan favorite middleweights aren't tempering expectations.
“I think we can make maybe the best fight of the year,” Silva said on a conference call Tuesday.
Both fighters have engaged in wars worthy of that title in the past. Silva has been in plenty of memorable contests through his 15-year career and Leben has followed recently.
Leben’s third-round submission victory over Yoshihiro Akiyama at last summer’s UFC 116 drew recognition from some as the 2010 fight of the year. Silva might like to think he would have given a similar performance.
Silva was, after all, Akiyama’s original opponent in the bout before pulling out with an injury. And Silva, nicknamed “The Axe Murderer,” says he and Leben, who goes by “The Crippler,” fight alike.
“This guy fights like a machine,” Silva said. “He has a style a lot like my style.”
It’s an observation Leben couldn’t deny. He crafted it that way.
“He’s one of my heroes,” Leben said. “Believe it or not, I don’t want to tell him this, but when I first started fighting I would go get bootleg PRIDE videos and watch him and in some ways try to emulate some of the stuff he did.”
Leben felt like he earned the right to fight the longtime PRIDE champion by beating Akiyama last summer. But, as Leben said, “it took the UFC a little while to come around to it.”
The UFC paired Leben with Brian Stann at UFC 125 earlier this year instead. The former Marine upset Leben and snapped his three-fight win streak.
A showdown with Silva appeared out of reach as UFC President Dana White attempted to match “The Axe Murderer” first against Stann and later fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort.
But Silva resisted all other bookings and took to his twitter account to rally fans to support a matchup with Leben. He said he thought the matchup had the best potential for excitement after he missed 18 months with a knee injury.
“I had a really tough year, but I had unbelievable support from my fans,” Silva said. “They send me messages every day and gave me great support. I really want to give them a good show. I wanted to show the best Wanderlei Silva.”
Leben was relieved when he got the call from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva telling him the bout was on. But, knowing the way Silva fights, Leben also experienced another emotion — fear.
“From one point, it’s be careful what you wish for,” Leben said. “He’s an animal. There’s nothing more motivating than fear of a coma.”
As the conference call wound down, Leben and Silva agreed to make a conscious effort to take home the UFC 132 Fight of the Night bonus.
Anything less would be a disappointment after all that went into making the matchup happen.