In one of the several middleweight massacres slated for UFC 162 in Las Vegas, Chris “The Crippler” Leben will meet Andrew “Highlight” Craig in the center of the Octagon for what promises to be a brutal battle. Although Highlight is five years Leben’s junior, and stands two inches taller, the Crippler has much more professional experience, with 14 more fights under his belt. Leben is known for his inhuman punching power and granite chin, yet Craig says he still “plans to finish him in the second [round].” With only one loss in his pro career, Craig is feeling confident stepping into this fight.
That being said, it is never wise to anticipate the outcome of a fight, or to underestimate a severely more seasoned opponent. In Leben’s last 22 fights, he has landed 531 out of 1,234 attempted strikes, and succeeded in securing 17 out of 30 attempted takedowns. He prefers to attack while the fight is still standing, with 47% of his attacks being thrown from that position. Leben avoids over half of the attacks thrown, as well as 56% of his opponents’ takedown attempts. UFC’s website shows that he has attempted 10 submissions, and has passed his enemies’ guards 22 times, indicating that he is no slouch on the ground either. Leben has proven himself several times already as a semifinalist on The Ultimate Fighter, as the first middleweight champion in the WEC, by being awarded Knockout of the Night on three occasions from the UFC, and Fight of the Night twice. In 2010, Sherdog named Leben as the comeback fighter of the year, and coming off two losses, this boxer/BJJ blue belt is looking to get back in good standing in his division.
Craig’s ground background is slightly more impressive as he has earned his purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In his last four fights, he has landed 79 out of 180 strikes, succeeded in one out of four takedown attempts, avoided 37% of his opponents’ strikes, and 71% of their takedowns. With three passes and two sweeps, his statistics are less impressive than those of his opponent, but he also has less fights to base them off of. Coming off his only loss, Highlight is definitely hungry to prove himself as a dominant fighter in the weight class, and wants to put Leben down quickly, lest this “comeback fighter” rallies and takes the win from Craig’s grasp. As the former Legacy FC middleweight champion, as well as the IXFA middleweight champ, Craig is qualified as an opponent of Leben’s caliber. He has beaten Rafael Natal, and was 8-0 before losing to Ronny Markes.
If Leben has been as strict with his training as he boasts, then I definitely see him winning this fight via knockout. He has more experience, heavier hands, and has faced many more high-profile opponents. He has beaten big name fighters like Yoshihiro Akiyama, Wanderlei Silva, Mike Swick and Benji Radach. He also has fought the seemingly unstoppable Anderson Silva, and Craig is nowhere near that level of fighter. The Crippler is going into this fight knowing how tough his opponent is, and is preparing for a very tough fight, while Craig seems to be a bit too cocky for me to believe he is taking this seriously. Come July 6, we will see if the Crippler adds a Highlight to his knockout reel.