Akiyama considered dropping out of fight

NEIL SPRINGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:56 PM ET

LAS VEGAS — Yoshihiro Akiyama almost didn't make it to UFC 116.

The Japanese MMA star was already preparing for his co-main event fight with Wanderlei (The Axe Murderer) Silva when he had the rug pulled out from under his feet. With only two weeks before the show, Silva (33-10-1) was forced to withdraw from the bout due to fractured ribs.

In order to salvage the match, the UFC confirmed Chris (The Crippler) Leben would replace the injured Silva at the MGM Grand Garden Arena this Saturday. However, Akiyama (13-1, 2 NC), who fans often refer to as “Sexyama”, admits he was so disappointed that he considered not fighting on the card.

“I had been wanting to fight Wanderlei for over a year,” Akiyama said through his translator at the UFC 116 pre-fight press conference. “It's been one of my focuses for quite some time. So I was very disappointed. To be honest, I thought about not fighting this time.”

Akiyama initially refused to face Leben (20-6), saying that he wanted a higher caliber opponent. Leben, who is hot off an impressive TKO victory over Aaron (A-Train) Simpson less than two weeks ago, admits he took the comment personally.

“I take it a little bit personal,” Leben said. “The bottom line is: the fight is for the UFC, he signed to fight on this card, his opponent got hurt – people get hurt, it's a part of our industry. His job is to get in there and mix it up.

“For him to say I'm not a worthy opponent kind of throws me off. I have 10 wins in the UFC. He's got one win by split-decision over Alan Belcher. I don't think that qualifies him to say I'm not a worthy opponent.”

UFC president Dana White said he would have understood if Akiyama dropped out.

“Trust me, I get it,” White said. “I've talked to Akiyama and I know how bad he wanted that Wanderlei Silva fight. For guys to mentally and physically prepare for a fight and then it gets taken away a couple weeks before the fight, it's a little disheartening. It's tough to take, so I understood.

“That's one thing I always say about the UFC – when one guy goes down, we always try to get another great fighter in there. It worked out, so I applaud them both for stepping up and taking this fight.”

Leben admitted he thought about turning down a fight so soon after his last bout, but said the offer was too sweet to pass up.

“The UFC presented me with an offer I couldn't refuse,” Leben said. “The more I thought about it, the more it became clear. I'm a fighter. This is what I do. Truly I have a limited window of time in this sport and right now I can kill two birds with one stone. Two fights with one training camp. It's a huge profile fight. It's huge for my career. It was just an offer I couldn't turn down.

"The hardest part of camp is training as hard as you can without getting injured. Right now, I truly feel I'm the best I've ever been and I'm not injured.”


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