UFC Fight Night 5 took place at the Pearl at the Palms in Las Vegas, on June 28, 2006. As was often the case with Fight Night events of that era, the card was a showcase for veterans of “The Ultimate Fighter,” including future light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans, who faced his fellow future hall of famer Stephan Bonnar.
The main event featured one of those “TUF” products, Chris Leben, who welcomed an enigmatic Brazilian named Anderson Silva to the Octagon. In hindsight, knowing the outcome from the start and remembering Leben’s infamous line about “sending [Silva] back to Japan, where the competition is easier,” it is tempting to cast Leben as the sacrificial lamb in this story. However, he was at the time 15-2 and on a six-fight winning streak, the last five of which had come in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He was rocketing towards the middleweight Top 10 and overdue to fight a high-level contender. That contender was Silva.
Make no mistake: those in the know—probably including Leben, despite that quip—knew what kind of fighter they were getting in “The Spider.” The former Shooto 167-pound champ had been one of the earliest Pride Fighting Championships stars to jump ship, extending his already impressive highlight reel with a couple of brief stops in England and Hawaii before signing with the UFC. Silva was a modest favorite on the books, and Sherdog’s official preview predicted not only that he would win his debut, but likely go on to take the middleweight belt from Rich Franklin. From the UFC’s perspective, it was a nifty piece of matchmaking. Leben was one of the most recognizable and successful exports of “The Ultimate Fighter” to date, and his brawling, come-forward style was likely to let Silva shine.
And shine he did. After a face-off that made it screamingly obvious that, no matter what the “Tale of the Tape” said, the two men were decidedly not both 5-foot-11, Silva made a very good fighter look like a complete amateur in one of the most complete steamrollings in UFC history. Within 10 seconds, Silva had snapped Leben’s head back with his first two jabs, then flung his opponent to the canvas as he went charging by. The vast superiority of Silva’s footwork meant that Leben was reduced to running at the Brazilian, swinging half-blindly and getting blasted with counters. The mauling lasted 49 seconds and could probably have been quite a bit shorter, as Silva had Leben hurt on the floor but elected to let him back up rather than jump on him. Seconds later, Silva grabbed Leben’s neck Thai-style and crushed him with a single knee to the chin, melting him instantly.
As Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan understandably shouted their heads off at the announcers’ table, the victorious fighter gave the crowd a huge grin and a brief dance routine with a little bit of air guitar. And with that, in less than a minute of work, America had been introduced to the essential elements of the man who would be one of the top three fighters in the sport for most of the next decade.