A middleweight fight between Strikeforce crossover Derek Brunson (9-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) and UFC veteran Chris Leben (22-8 MMA, 12-7 UFC) now is official for next week's UFC 155 pay-per-view.
Brunson steps in for an injured Karlos Vemola (9-3 MMA, 2-3 UFC) for the short notice fight, news that was first reported by USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). UFC officials on Wednesday made the fight official.
Brunson-Leben is expected to serve as the opening bout of the pay-per-view's main card. UFC 155 takes place Dec. 29 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The year-end show is headlined by a heavyweight title fight rematch between champion Junior Dos Santos and former champ Cain Velasquez.
Brunson comes to the UFC following back-to-back losses. In August, he was knocked out by former Strikeforce middleweight champion Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in just 41 seconds. In June, he lost a controversial split decision to Kendall Grove under the Missouri-based ShoFight banner in a fight outside Strikeforce.
Prior to the consecutive losses, Brunson started his career 9-0 with seven first-round stoppage wins. The North Carolina native went 3-1 with Strikeforce and now will look to start off his UFC career on a high note. His Strikeforce future, along with that promotion's other fighters, remains clouded in doubt with the Jan. 12 event expected to be its last.
Leben makes his return after a yearlong suspension after testing positive for prescription painkillers following his UFC 138 main-event loss to Mark Munoz in England. That was Leben's second career suspension for a failed drug test.
Before that loss, Leben notched a quick knockout win over Wanderlei Silva in just 27 seconds at UFC 132. But he's toggled back and forth with sins and losses after a three-fight win streak that included stoppages of Aaron Simpson and Yoshihiro Akiyama just two weeks apart in 2010.
Two other late changes are expected for next week's card, with the likely addition of a lightweight fight between Melvin Guillard and Jamie Varner. That fight was to take place at this past weekend's TUF 16 Finale, but Varner was ill on the day of the fight and not allowed to compete. UFC President Dana White said the fight will be moved to UFC 155, but it has not yet been formally announced. And the promotion is looking for an opponent for featherweight Leonard Garcia, who had Cody McKenzie fall off their bout with an injury just Tuesday.
With the change, the UFC 155 card now includes:
MAIN (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez - for heavyweight title
Joe Lauzon vs. Jim Miller
Tim Boetsch vs. Constantinos Philippou
Alan Belcher vs. Yushin Okami
Derek Brunson vs. Chris Leben
PRELIMINARY (FX, Facebook)
Melvin Guillard vs. Jamie Varner*
Brad Pickett vs. Eddie Wineland
Erik Perez vs. Byron Bloodworth
Michael Johnson vs. Myles Jury
Leonard Garcia vs. TBA*
Philip De Fries vs. Todd Duffee
Chris Cariaso vs. John Moraga