Chris Leben (22-11), who many know as ‘The Crippler” is a Ultimate Fighter season 1 veteran, knockout and fight of the night bonus winner on multiple occasions, and a 2010 comeback fighter of the year. A combatant who most recognize by his red dyed hair, painted black nails, and most importantly; his abilities inside the octagon.
In recent news, World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation (WBKFF) announced the signing of Leben, as well as his opponent Phil Baroni. The two are set to meet on Oct. 20th, 2018.
FightBook MMA spoke with Leben following his end of retirement announcement to bare knuckle box, and now back to 100%, Chris Leben is in search of a championship.
Poor Lifestyle, Heart Problems, from 14% use to 100%
Reminiscing on his final performances in the UFC, it led to a simple question, being: what made Leben want to come out of retirement, and enter into the newly legalized Bare Knuckling fighting. He said:
“Well, my last four fights I was in a tough place, I was on medication which slowed me down and due to poor lifestyle choices, I didn’t know it, but my health was fading. I have now been sober for a few years, my heart is 100%, both my cardio and skill level feel better than ever before. If you remember a few years ago after becoming sober, I tried to come back and fight for Bellator MMA, but I couldn’t pass the EKG (Electrocardiography) test. Well, the heart is good now, I work full-time in the gym I train at, and spar with my guys regularly. When I’m not training fighters I’m refereeing fights somewhere here in California. Fighting is what I do, it’s what I love to do, it’s a huge part of my life. I want to go out there put it on the line, inspire younger fighters and people that have battled with addiction. Most of all, put on some exciting fights for the fans.”
Two years after his retirement from MMA, Bellator MMA announced a multi-fight deal with Chris Leben, bringing a sense of surprise to fans and the media. The big news was shortly lived, as Leben would fail his EKG test. Chris details exactly what was wrong:
“My ejection fraction for my heart was at 14%, which is like “dude you need a new heart”. The doctors were surprised I could even walk up the stairs to get into the doctors office, and of course I was training three hours a day at that time, Leben Laughed. Something didn’t feel right, but I thought I was just getting older. I’ve continued to work very hard on my recovery/sobriety, I’m very active in the community here in San Diego, that along with switching to an organic, mostly raw diet and last but definitely not least, my boss Lucas who spent thousands of hours researching heart failure put me on a massive supplement program. I take about 20 different organic powders, along with about 15 different vitamins a couple times a day. The program has worked wonders. The last few visits to my cardiologist, she was like “I don’t know what you’re doing, but just keep doing it”. The recovery that I’ve made is almost unheard of, according to her. I was a healthy 36-year-old man last year when I had my check up. I’ve now had my heart checked again ,about three weeks ago, and the heart is even better and stronger than before.”
Chris Leben’s Return to Combat Sports, Bare Knuckle Boxing
Earlier this week (third week of July, 2018), news was made official by Leben on Instagram that he had signed a contract to compete in WBKFF, and this is ultimately what led him to his decision to come out of retirement:
“When I retired I was in a rough spot, as far as my marriage went. Mentally and physically, training was the farthest thing from my mind, but after meeting my girlfriend, now my baby’s mother, life continues to get better and better. I began to train regularly, I began to feel better, and that’s when the thought started creeping in (man, I’m doing better now than I’ve ever done in my entire career, I wish I could get out there and showcase my skills for the world), of course at the time that wasn’t an option due to the heart. Now I can come back and be the best shape they’ve ever seen, and hopefully inspire some people in the process.”
A now unretired, 100% Chris Leben would make the jump back into competing, and surprising most by signing with a Bare Knuckle organization. More recently, the sport has drawn in thousands of interested viewers. It was only right we got Leben’s take on the, once again, newly legalized combat sport, in which is gruesome to some, and loved by others:
Bare knuckle (fighting) is awesome. I love the sport. I feel like this sport was specially designed for the way I fight. Toe to toe slug-fest, small ring with nowhere to run, no trying to hold me on my back. Are you kidding? It’s perfect for me. Also I have the opportunity to be a bare knuckle boxing champion, how cool is that to tell your grand kids? Following up with a big “LOL”.
Newly Implemented Rules, Fighter Uniforms and USADA
Since his retirement, a lot of things have changed in the world of mixed martial arts. Newly implemented rules, fighter uniforms (in the case of the UFC, fighters having to wear Reebok), and also the introduction of USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency). We asked about all these different variables when it comes to fighting, and what Leben thought of them:
“Honestly, as a referee I like the new rules. Fingers up when you jab, the definition of a grounded opponent, the ability to grab the clavicle. The uniforms, I think it’s a little bit of a tough one for me. I feel like they rob the fighter of being able to express themselves. As far as testing goes, I think it’s great as long as it’s a level playing field. Maybe the one little issue is if you live in California, guarantee they’re going to show up at your house. If you live somewhere in South America you probably have less of a chance at being randomly tested.”
Ultimate Fighter 1, The Leben Experience
TUF 1, which premiered on January 17th, 2005, was a reality T.V. show, featuring up-and-coming fighters who would compete in physical activities and in combat to crown a Middleweight and Light Heavyweight winner. Season 1 of the Ultimate Fighter is credited for saving the UFC as a company, displaying one of the best fights ever put on inside the octagon, which would consist of both finalists, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar.
While the first installment of the now 28 (American) seasons of the show displayed some legendary fights, it also gave the audience a chance to learn the backgrounds of everyone living in the TUF house, as well as what took place in the house, as each fighter had no access to T.V., phones, etc. Chris Leben would quickly become one of the most popular in the house, in terms of fans, feuding with Josh Koscheck and Bobby Southworth, drunken moments, and much more.
Looking back, Leben gives his explanation of what it was like living in the house, and credits that season of the Ultimate Fighter for a “phenomenal” career:
“The Ultimate Fighter house like going to Boot Camp. It wasn’t fun at the times, but what it did for my career was phenomenal. The Ultimate Fighter change the sport of MMA forever, and as far as my career goes, you know man, there were highs, there were lows and everything in between. There were fights that worked out perfect, and there were others I wish I had done something different. Trainsed different, etc. Everything in life happens for a reason, I truly believe that. I try not to look back, because I’m not going that direction. I’m here now in the situation I’m in and it’s perfect.”
Be sure to follow Chris ‘The Crippler’ Leben on Twitter: @ChrisLebenMMA
For more MMA content, be sure to also follow Adam LeBarr on Twitter: @thefightersblog
Photo via: MMAJunkie