BJPenn.Com Exclusive: Chris Leben Talks About His Return and What He's Been Up to This Past Year
The last time we saw Chris Leben in the Octagon was last November at UFC 138 in England. His fight with Mark Munoz had been stopped after the end of the second round due to a cut Leben had sustained. Many fans said that he looked lethargic, but there were several reports that he had a difficult time with his weight cut causing him to gas out early on in the fight.
Not too long after the event it was announced that Leben had tested positive for various painkillers and he was hit with a one year suspension. It was a tough blow for the man who has entertained us for so long with his go for broke style and willingness to fight anyone at anytime. Leben is preparing to come back and told us when we should expect to see him inside the Octagon.
“I recently signed a new four fight deal with the UFC,” Leben told BJPenn.Com Radio. “Although I don’t have an opponent yet Joe Silva said I will be on one of the four cards scheduled in December. I’m excited to get back in there; this last year has been a long one. I was able to take a step back and take care of some stuff. Things are going so much better for me now and I’m excited to see what the new and improved Chris Leben is like.”
While no opponent has been announced or even brought to his attention at this time there was one fighter who we mentioned that definitely caught his attention as he readies himself for his return bout. That man is Hector Lombard and although his debut at UFC 149 was disappointing Leben believes the two would put on a great show for the fans.
“A lot of fighters when they come in to the UFC they don’t look like the fighter we are used to watching,” Leben said. “They weren’t going against the same level of competition, how many guys have been champions on other shows and come into the UFC and not had the same success? On another note I love to watch Lombard fight and that’s the fight I am looking for. You don’t have to worry about it not being exciting. I’d like to see him go on and do well and establish himself.”
Leben has had past issues with alcohol and was also once suspended for using steroids before his bout with Michael Bisping in of all places England. He has gone through great strides to overcome those obstacles and make a better life for himself.
“For anyone who doesn’t know I’ve worked really hard on turning my life around,” offered Leben. “I did a little stint in rehab and since then I’ve focused on my treatment and counseling. I was forced to come face to face with some of these issues that I was battling with. I’ve also given my body a chance to heal. I started getting massages and acupuncture instead of popping a pill to be able to train through the pain. I’ve changed everything in my life around. All I do now is coach, train and run my gym. I’ve been able to deal with the anxiety of everything that happened. My new way of dealing with things is to go to the gym and train until I’m exhausted.”
Gone is the Wildman who put his fist through a door on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Leben spends his days in Hawaii preparing for his return and helping others any chance that he gets. It is definitely something that helps keep him in check and out of trouble.
“A lot of people seem to forget that I was on TUF seven or eight years ago,” Leben explained. “I have a gym in Hawaii and if I’m not training I’m coaching. I go to the gym in the morning and get my first workout of the day out of the way. Then I coach my team for two hours and train myself again. I coach again in the evening and if I’m not in the gym I volunteer at a youth correctional center.”
“I go in and give the kids a little talk and I teach them some Muay Thai for an hour and end it with another talk. I do that once or twice a week, it’s really awarding, a lot of times their teachers and their parents can’t get through to them as well as I can. Maybe it’s because I have all these tattoos and I cuss a little bit more! I love it and it’s good to give back.”
Leben trained at Team Quest for many years and was a teammate of both Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen. Most of his time is spent training or working with his fighters, but he made sure to catch the Anderson Silva-Sonnen rematch at UFC 148 this past July.
“I try and keep up with the UFC as much as I can,” said The Crippler. “In my case if I’m not training I’m cornering some of my amateur fighters on most weekends. As far as the Silva-Sonnen rematch it was a little bit of a tough break, Chael looked great in the first round, but I don’t know what happened in the second round so I’m going to leave that one alone. I trained with Chael for a long time and he’s a great guy, but when you watch your friends fight it’s always tough. He beat him for four and a half rounds in the first fight, but title fights are five rounds for a reason.”
Now that Sonnen has failed in his two attempts at defeating the Spider the MMA community waits to see who is next. Leben has been keeping his eye on one fighter who has really made a name for himself since coming to the organization.
“As far as who’s next I have been hearing Chris Weidman’s name a lot and he looks really tough. It’ll be interesting to see what he will look like in a couple of years, he’s already a force to be reckoned with. I saw his fight with Munoz and he looked good, but the ending was hard to watch. The referee stopped that fight way too late.”
Both the referees and judges in MMA have come under a lot of heavy criticism and while not all of it is deserved there is definitely enough evidence to show that changes need to be made. Leben has made it a point to try and improve the training of all the local refs and judges in Hawaii.
“The refs have to be on point all the time,” Leben stated. “That’s something that I’m an advocate for here on the smaller, local shows. They need proper training, how long have we been talking about this stuff? When it goes to the judges, you could’ve won all three rounds, but you just don’t know how it’s going to turn out. It’s like a coin toss. You truly don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The first time we saw Anderson Silva in the UFC Octagon was against Leben at Ultimate Fight Night 5 back in June of 2006. Leben lasted a mere 49 seconds to a man many UFC fans knew very little about. Leben was very confident before the fight took place, but he was also well aware of what The Spider was capable of.
“Going into the fight I knew how tough he was,” said Leben. “My coach was the head judge in Pride and we knew all about him. When you’re a fighter you’re looking to beat everyone you step into the cage with. Hindsight is 20/20 and here we are several years later and I wouldn’t fight him the same way now that I did back then. I have a lot more knowledge and respect for his game now, but I don’t think anyone knew then that he was going to do what he has done in the UFC.”
The elephant in the room since August 23rd is of course the cancellation of UFC 151 and Jon Jones refusing to fight Sonnen on eight days notice. Leben as has been shown by his actions in the past is the type of fighter who would’ve fought anyone on little notice, but he also is quick to point out that we can’t lay all the blame on Jones’ shoulders.
“I think Jones is getting a lot of heat for it, but let’s be honest we know who made that decision and it was not Jon Jones,” Leben stated. “It was his coach and the bottom line is they should’ve thought more about it because it hurt his fighters’ reputation. If you’re the UFC champion, you’re at the top of the mountain, you fight anyone, you don’t have a choice in the matter. People get hurt all the time. I fought two weeks after a fight because someone got hurt.”
“The difference is Jones is an athlete, he really fights the way his coaches want him to fight. It might take him awhile to develop a game plan for each individual fighter. I consider myself more a martial artist and I want to be able to face and overcome the adversity regardless who my opponent is. I would look at it as a challenge. It goes both ways because anyone stepping in to fight Jones didn’t have any time to adapt either. I would’ve had a hard time making that decision especially knowing that the whole event would have been cancelled.”
Now that Sonnen is no longer an option and both Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua have decided not to fight Jones on three weeks’ notice the UFC found a former champion to step up to the plate and while many aren’t giving Vitor Belfort much of a chance, Leben isn’t one of them.
“I’ve been saying this for years and it all depends on which Vitor shows up,” Leben offered. “I’ve seen him go out and literally be the best in the world. I’ve also seen him go out and have sub-par performances. It’ll be interesting to see what type of condition he’s in because he’s been a middleweight for awhile now. I think it’s going to be a good fight and I think Vitor can do it.”
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I'm a married father of two and a lifelong Long Island resident.
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