UFC 138 Viewer's Guide
The other day, seeking a tidbit of information about UFC 138, I ventured to the fight organization's web site and had a brief moment of confusion. Had I got the date wrong? Is the event in Birmingham, England, not this weekend?
It turned out that I had the date right and Mark Muñoz and Chris Leben will indeed be headlining a Saturday evening of fights in the West Midlands of Britain. But you wouldn't have known it from the UFC's home on the web, which was splashed with all things UFC on Fox, the MMA promotion's network television debut. That fight card, topped by a heavyweight championship bout between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, takes place in a week, and in case you didn't already know how historic an event it will be for the company and the sport, the UFC's web site was there to tell you. And tell you some more.
UFC 138, meanwhile, was flying under the radar. Still. Until last weekend, all anyone in MMA wanted to talk about for weeks was the UFC 137 main event between Nick Diaz and B.J. Penn. In the lead up, there was much anticipation surrounding an intriguing match up of two guys equally skilled and comfortable both in the standup game and on the mat. And then, after Diaz decisively pounded Penn into retirement (or at least into a retirement announcement, always subject to reconsideration), the hype was ramped up that very night. At the post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White announced that Diaz would leapfrog Carlos Condit back into a welterweight title bout against Georges St-Pierre, where he once was scheduled to be until -- ah, let's not go into that sordid tale now. This is the time to talk about UFC 138.
Or not. The UFC hype machine was churning on the company's network TV debut even before the Nick-B.J. bout, and now that that's over, it's all Fox, all the time. Unless you want to start getting into UFC 139, which takes place in two weeks, headlined by a big-time light heavyweight showdown between former champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and ex-Strikeforce and Pride titlist Dan Henderson. With Wanderlei Silva vs. Cung Le and Urijah Faber vs. Brian Bowles on the undercard, it's a pay-per-view that'll draw some business.
The next two weekends' fight cards, on the other hand, are not PPVs. The difference between them is that UFC on Fox has been the subject of a
Contrast that to UFC 138, which isn't even being shown live. Saturday's same-day taped telecast will be on Spike beginning at 8 ET. At that same time, the biggest non-bowl college football game in years will be kicking off on CBS, featuring No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama. Combat sports fans who resist that or the evening's other 10,000 college gridiron offerings soon will have a couple more viewing options. At 9 p.m. ET, Showtime has a super middleweight boxing match between unbeaten champion Lucien Bute and rugged Glen Johnson. At 10:15, HBO jumps into the ring with a battle of junior middleweight knockout artists James Kirkland and Alfredo Angulo. All of the above, with the exception of UFC 138, is live.
Still, Muñoz vs. Leben is hard to ignore. Sequester yourself away from Twitter or any MMA web sites where you might learn the result of the fight, which takes place while it's afternoon here in the U.S. That way it'll play out freshly for you as the two forward-moving fighters engage for up to 25 minutes. That's right, it's a five-round fight, the first non-title UFC bout to be so designated.
What makes this bout worth paying attention to, however, is not the milestone but the middleweights. Muñoz is a former NCAA Division 1 national champion wrestler and a two-time All-American who has honed his striking game as his MMA career has progressed. He's 11-2, winner of six of his last seven, the only loss during that stretch coming against the most recent challenger for Anderson Silva's belt, Yushin Okami. Leben (22-7) has no such collegiate credentials, but his upbringing in the school of hard knocks has included training with Randy Couture and Matt Lindland. His career has had ups and it's had downs -- most publicly his out-of-control behavior during the first season
Yet Leben is no mere gatekeeper for the rising Muñoz, who seems to be just a couple of wins from a title shot. In recent times, Chris has developed a credible jiu-jitsu game, which came into play when he upset Yoshihiro Akiyama last year via triangle choke. Leben has won four of his last five fights, the most recent win -- over Wanderlei Silva in July -- coming the old-fashioned way: knockout. In 27 seconds.