Ben Fowlkes
Friday October 17th, 2008

There is only one place Chris Leben doesn't want his middleweight clash with Michael Bisping at UFC 89 to go: the judges.

Facing Britain's most popular fighter, Leben isn't likely to have many supporters in Birmingham, England, other than those in his own corner. And he knows what that could mean if the fight goes the distance.

"We all saw that fight with Matt Hamill," Leben said, referring to Bisping's razor-thin split decision victory at UFC 75 in London. "Now I'm fighting him in his hometown in England. It's up to me to go out and finish the fight."

That kind of thinking could lead a fighter to get a little more desperate with each round. Fortunately for Leben, it won't require too much of a stylistic alteration.

We've heard a lot about the new, more mature Leben in the past few weeks. For the most part it seems to be true. He trains harder, is more dedicated to the sport and has even cut down on drunken stunts that inevitably find their way onto YouTube.

But in the Octagon, Leben still knows one path to victory, and it's throwing big bombs with the willingness to take a few to land one. That brawling style served him well against another sharp striker in Alessio Sakara. Trouble is, Bisping is not Sakara.

"The Count" is a more complete fighter than any Leben has faced of late. The Brit doesn't rattle easily and has no glaring weaknesses in his game, even if he also has no overpowering strengths. But solid is far from elite, and if Bisping wants to show that he might someday be the heir to Anderson Silva's throne, he needs to prove it against Leben.

Squeaking by with a hometown decision isn't going to get it done, which means there ought to be two men with a sense of urgency Saturday night.

It's a tale of two tax brackets when Brandon Vera and Keith Jardine meet in their light-heavyweight eliminator match. Vera rode his early success and the UFC's high hopes of him getting a big money contract, but lately he's looked like the organization's most disappointing six-figure fighter. And UFC President Dana White hasn't hesitated to point it out.

Meanwhile, Jardine has been taking on 205-pound superstars like Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell at a bargain rate for the last two years. His only problem is the win-one, lose-one pattern that has kept him out of title contention.

The winner here gets to hang around near the top of the division and see how the title fight lottery shakes out over the next few months. The loser will have to justify his continued employment. That will be easier for Jardine, who's been making paltry amounts without a complaint. But Vera's price tag comes with certain expectations, and he hasn't met them. It makes you wonder how long it will be before the UFC brass decides this is not the economic climate to be throwing money at an investment with such diminishing returns.

The UFC is obviously smart enough to pack the undercard with British fighters. After the Rameau Sokoudjou-Luiz Cane bout, the fight card takes on a decidedly European feel. It makes good business sense as the UFC starts to pin more of its hopes on added pay-per-view revenue from the UK. But how many of those fights will deliver for American fans on the Spike TV broadcast?

For one, the UFC has set up what is sure to be an explosive, and probably very quick, bout between Marcus Davis and Paul Kelly. When one guy is nicknamed "The Irish Hand Grenade," and he's the American in the bunch, you know what to expect. Savvy veteran Chris Lytle is also scheduled to teach Liverpool's Paul Taylor a thing or two about the fight business -- and don't expect that one to go the distance either.

On the dark portion of the card, the one fight you can probably look forward to seeing, however briefly, is the Shane Carwin-Neil Wain heavyweight contest. Carwin is an absolute monster and Wain is, you guessed it, a Brit making his UFC debut. Wain is undefeated against lower-tier opponents, but that won't mean much against the bigger, stronger Carwin, who looked positively frightening in his knockout victory over Christian Wellisch. This matchup is the stuff highlight reels are made of, and that's no accident.

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