Welcome back, Crippler!
After serving a nine month suspension stemming from a positive test following his loss to Michael Bisping, Chris Leben makes his return to the UFC right in his own backyard of Portland, Oregon.
In a strange way, Leben actually deserves some credit heading into the cage on Saturday for the way he's gotten out in front of his positive test and dealt with the repercussions. While most athletes swear they never used steroids and blame over the counter medications and supplements, Leben has admitted his error in judgment, taken his lumps and returns ready to deliver some of his own.
Unfortunately, it won't be that easy.
Chris "The Crippler" Leben (18-8-0) vs. Jake Rosholt (5-1-0)
Clearly, the original bad boy from The Ultimate Fighter series has a distinct advantage in the experience department over the former All-American wrestler. Even in defeat, having fought guys like Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping teach you things about yourself and your skills.
Rosholt, on the other hand, is just six fights in to his professional career and comes in off the first loss of his career, a quick submission defeat to Dan Miller at UFC Fight Night back in February.
The good news for Rosholt is that he doesn't really have to worry about getting submitted in this one. The bad news, of course, is that he has to worry about getting his mouthguard launched into the 14th row by Leben's dangerous hands.
That being said, Rosholt matches up well stylistically agains the stand-and-bang style of Leben, as his wrestling pedigree gives him an edge on the mat and a way to control this fight.
A highly-decorated wrestling with Oklahoma State, Rosholt was a three-time National champion and four time All-American on the same team as recent UFC winner Johny Hendricks and WEC fighter Shane Roller. Clearly, bringing this fight to the ground not only nullifies Leben's knockout power, but puts Rosholt in his comfort zone where he can control the fight and utilize his ground and pound.
If you look at Leben's track record, his wins come against guys who are willing to stand and trade with him (Alessio Sakara, Terry Martin, Jorge Santiago), while anyone who comes in and sticks to their gameplan seems to be able to secure a victory, as was the case against Jason McDonald, Kalib Starnes and the aforementioned Michael Bisping and Anderson Silva.
Simply put: if you play with fire, you're going to get burned.
Rosholt is going to be a good, if not great MMA fighter; his wrestling base is off the charts, he's working with Xtreme Couture who, despite what Kit Cope may say, are an outstanding group and have a great deal of wisdom to impart and you know he has the competitive fire inside him having been a top level athlete on the collegiate level.
The merging of the WEC Middleweight division into the UFC was an unfortunate hiccup in his career path and could lead to some tough times ahead. Rosholt was too good a prospect to simply let go, but still too green to be able to compete against some of the stiff competition the UFC has to offer.
Mark Munoz suffered the same fate, moving from the WEC Light Heavyweight division with an impressive record to getting knocked silly by Matt Hammil in his UFC debut.
The question now is whether Rosholt has made adequate improvements to his game in the six months since he's been in the cage and will be able to keep clear of Chris Leben's powerful punches?
We'll all find out together on Saturday night.