Akiyama file photo: Sherdog.com
Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Chris Leben
Let it never be said that Leben was the type to turn down a fight. Just two weeks after notching an upset TKO over Aaron Simpson, Leben is stepping in on impossibly short notice to fight Akiyama in a bout that will launch the winner to title contention.
The only way Leben manages the feat is by forcing Akiyama to trade on the feet, and even then this isn’t a terribly advantageous matchup for him. In his UFC debut against Alan Belcher, “Sexyama” proved his chin can handle heavy hitters and showed the sort of smooth striking you rarely see from judo converts. For all of Leben’s kill-shot power, he has never been a technically proficient striker and has a long history of defensive issues to prove it.
A notable example of those issues is his fight with Michael Bisping, which saw him short-circuited by some footwork and a steady 1-2. Akiyama can easily replicate that approach and has the pop to hurt Leben as well as the snappy leg kicks to give him a different look.
That’s just one option for the Osaka native, as his top-control game is built to give Leben fits. Back in the day Akiyama was one of the world’s premier judokas, and he has adapted his game to MMA beautifully. Sporting a full complement of throws, sweeps and trips, there is little doubt that if Akiyama wants Leben on the mat, he’ll get him there without incident. In fairness to Leben, though, he has made serious improvements in his jiu-jitsu and has a surprisingly offensive guard.
By the same token Leben did get gamed on the mat by Jake Rosholt, whose porous submission defense Leben couldn’t capitalize on. Given that troubling performance, the picture starts to look pretty grim for “The Crippler” should he have to fend off Akiyama’s grappling. An adroit guard-passer who can drop nasty ground-and-pound just as easily as he snatches submissions, Akiyama has a full toolbox on the mat while Leben has a wrench and some stripped screws.
Beyond the stylistic issues, it’s hard to imagine that Leben will be anywhere near 100 percent for this fight. The bumps and bruises of a full training camp and tough fight need time to heal. That means Leben is putting himself at a massive physical disadvantage by jumping back into the fray so quickly. Nothing but props to him for stepping up to the plate, but Akiyama is going to win this fight without much trouble.