Chris "The Crippler" Leben travels to England to take on British fan-favorite Michael "The Count" Bisping at UFC 89 on Oct. 18 from the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham in a career defining fight that will leave the winner in title contention for the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight crown.
"It's pretty cool. It's me and my coach. We're going over there. We're going into enemy territory. We're going to be the bad guy the whole time. It makes it intense. You know? It helps me focus," Leben told MMAWeekly.com. "I've said it before. The only thing cooler than making 20,000 people scream at once is making them all shut up. That's going to be a nice feeling when I knock Bisping out and that whole arena is dead, stone quiet."
Bisping and Leben were originally slated to headline UFC 85 in London on June 7. Due to a legal situation regarding a parole violation stemming from a past DUI charge, Leben ended up serving 11 days of a 35-day jail sentence, which forced the Ultimate Fighter season one contestant out of the bout.
"I was absolutely, totally disappointed. I was really looking forward to fighting Bisping the first time. I thought the two of us really needed to fight. When it didn't happen it was a huge let down," said the middleweight fighter. "I was super bummed. I didn't know if the fight was ever going to happen. Luckily the UFC offered me the fight again. This time it's definitely going to happen. It just makes me that much more stoked."
The match-up has enormous implications for each fighter. For Leben, it's another win on his way back to contender status. For Bisping, who recently made the move to the middleweight division after dropping down from the 205-pound weight class, it will solidify him as a force in the deep weight class.
"I don't want to say it's the biggest fight of my career because they're all big, but absolutely it's huge," said Leben. "It's major. Winning this fight is going to open a lot of doors for one of the two of us. And I want that to be me."
Leben knows Bisping will be the heavy crowd favorite at UFC 89, and he's concerned about the crowd's reaction playing into the judge's scoring if the fight goes to a decision. Citing Bisping's controversial win over Matt Hamill at UFC 75 on Sept. 8, 2007 from the O2 Arena in London, Leben has no intentions of letting this end up in the judges' hands.
"The judges are watching the fight, but they're hearing the crowd. If the crowd screams every time one guy does something, and the other guy almost knocks the guy out and the crowd doesn't do anything, obviously that's going to have a psychological effect on any judge," said the 28-year-old fighter.
"I know that. Even worse, I know that he knows that," continued Leben. "I need to go in there to win this thing. I need to take it from him. I can't just go in there and let him stay alive because we know how it works. If we let it go to the judges, that's my fault.
"I know that in the back of his mind, he can go, okay, all I have to do is stay away from his power, dance around, look good and I'll get the decision," he added. "I know what's going on in the back of his mind, so in the back of my mind I'm going to have to cut him off. I'm going to have to force him to fight with me. I'm going to have to go out and be the better fighter."
Most fighters won't reveal their game plans, but Leben maintains it doesn't matter. "I'll go ahead and tell him what my game plan is because it's not going to make a difference," stated Leben. "I'm going to go out there, I'm going to pressure him. I'm going to beat him up on his feet. I'm going to move forward. I'm going to cut off the ring. If he gives me a takedown, I'm going to take it. If he gives me a submission, I'm going to submit him. Pressure, pressure, pressure, that's my game plan.
"A lot of people say that, 'His cardio is good. His cardio is great.' Well, from what I've seen of him, his cardio is good when somebody doesn't push him. When they let him dance around and pop a jab here, pop a jab there. We really haven't seen somebody take the fight to him, and take the fight to him from the beginning of the fight to the end of the fight. That's what I'm planning to do."
In short, fans are in for a new Chris Leben.
"The fighter you see on Oct. 18 is going to be somebody that nobody has ever seen before. When I step into that Octagon, people are going to be this is not the Chris Leben that I know. This isn't the fighter that I remember watching," said the American. "It's going to be completely different; bigger, meaner, stronger, faster, a quicker Chris Leben that's going to go out there."