Everyone has them. Sometimes you keep them to yourself. Other times you know that admitting when you’re wrong is best. Saturday night was one of those times.
UFC 155 had a solid set of fights on the FX prelims and you could easily make the argument that any one of them — specifically Varner vs. Guillard or Pickett vs. Wineland — could have opened up the pay per view. Instead, Dana White opted to go against matchmaker Joe Silva’s wishes and give Chris Leben’s return to the UFC after a year long suspension due to drug use in the opening slot. It didn’t matter that Leben’s original opponent, Karlos Vemola, had been injurned and Strikeforce’s relatively unknown Derek Brunson had to step in. White figured that Leben was a fan favorite that would give you everything he had.
Well, that blew up in his face.
Leben and Brunson slogged through three painfully uneventful rounds of a opening bout where cardio was at a minimum. Brunson would walk away with the victory but nobody was impressed. White stood at the podium of UFC 155’s post fight press conference with egg on his face.
“I love Chris Leben, personally and professionally,” White said. “But tonight, I think I made a mistake putting him on the pay-per-view. I should have had him on the undercard. He’s been off with personal problems for a while. He’s had a lot of time off, and he looked slow tonight. I wasn’t crazy about that fight. That wasn’t my favorite fight of the night, that’s for damn sure.”
It wasn’t anybody’s favorite fight. As a matter of fact, it was anything but an adrenaline shot to open a PPV. Moreover, even though Brunson won, White couldn’t help but voice his displeasure in the manner that it happened.
“The other kid was looking at the clock like he was a 14-year-old waiting for school to get out the entire fight – looking at the clock,” White said. Brunson used his wrestling to ground the heavy handed Leben. But midway through the second round, you could see the fatigue written all over Brunson’s face. It was as if both guys fought underwater and the fans at the MGM let it be known that they weren’t happy with the sluggish pace. “You’re in the UFC your first time, and I wasn’t very impressed.”
It was so bad that some questioned whether Leben’s heart was still in MMA. The bigger fight for him over the past few years has been with drugs and sobriety. Perhaps that has taken the wind from his sails. White doesn’t think so though.
“Chris Leben loves to fight – there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “The biggest challenge in Chris Leben’s life is battling his demons. We try to help him as much as we can. I love the kid.”
Surely we’ll get to see him get the opportunity to redeem himself. Probably not on the main card though.