The combat sports career of Chris Leben has been long and storied. However now it seems to be coming to a close, as he has announced his retirement.
As a veteran of season one of The Ultimate Fighter, Leben earned a reputation as a wild brawler and a bit of a madman. He would live up to these expectations across his UFC tenure. Then he found a bit of a career resurgence competing in BKFC most recently. Although his career has been full of ups and downs, both in and out of the cage, he has grown as both a person and a fighter.
Chris Leben Announces Retirement
Now it seems that the lengthy career of the 39-year old Chris Leben is coming to an end. However he is not leaving combat sports entirely. Speaking in a recent video, “the Crippler” revealed that he will be continuing his role as a coach and referee, focusing his attention on those endeavors. Moreover he offered some kind words of encouragement to those who have struggled with addiction, like he has.
“I just wanted to put out this short video and make this official,” Chris Leben began. (h/t BJPenn.com) “Everybody knows I’ve been competing in bare-knuckle, and I think it’s time to retire.
“Couple reasons why,” Leben continued. “Dave Feldman and the BKFC have been wonderful to me. It has nothing to do with that all. It has to do the fact that, first and foremost, I’m an amateur ref here in California. I’m aspiring to go pro, I want to do that, and I feel like it’s a conflict of interest being both a referee and an athlete at the same time. I want to focus on my career as a referee. Also, I want to focus on my career as a coach, as an elite-level coach. I coach jiu jitsu, I coach boxing, I coach MMA. When I’m training, I don’t have the time to put the energy into my athletes.So now, wanting to be a referee, wanting to focus on my fighters, my coaching, focus on my family—I want to have time and energy for them when I get home—those are all reasons.”
Chris Leben continues by saying that he misses competing in BJJ. He then goes on to explain that his UFC run was not exactly what he was hoping for. The fact that he was unable to answer the bell for the third round in his final fight with the promotion really bothered him.
“Here’s the biggest thing that I wanted to talk about,” Leben explained. “My UFC career did not finish the way I wanted it to. I don’t think most people’s do, but I ended up going through a ton of struggles, both in and out of the cage, battling with addiction, battling with alcoholism. Ultimately when I came here to The Arena, I got on that path to recovery. Most people that follow me know I just got my two-year coin. So I’ve been 100 percent sober for two years now. The battle’s been much longer than that. It’s been four years that I’ve really worked at it. I’ve had two slips on alcohol in the last four years, but the last two years, I’ve abstained from any and everything, and God willing, it’s going to be that way that way the rest of my life.
“For a guy that’s known for putting his heart in the cage, for a guy who would go out there and die before he gave up in a fight, I finished my UFC career on the stool,” Leben continued. “Now if you don’t know what that means, that means I didn’t answer the bell for the third [round]. The referee didn’t count me out. There was no TKO or submission. I just didn’t answer the bell for the third round. That’s because my heart wasn’t in it. That was devastating to me. It was crippling for me to finish my career that way.”
Turning His Life Around
After his UFC run, Leben tried signing with Bellator. However he would fail medical screenings due to issues with his heart. He was told that he would need surgery to repair the organ that was damaged by years of intense training and a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol. However getting sober was able to reverse some of the damage he had done to his body.
“I tried to go back and fight for Bellator, I got a contract,” Leben explained. “I failed my pre-fight medicals. It turns out my heart was completely shot. Obviously, they said, from the excessive training and the excessive alcohol. By changing literally everything in my life, abstaining from drugs and alcohol, changing my diet, changing how I manage stress and anxiety, changing where I live, changing who I surround myself with, slowly but surely, my heart improved. Little by little. First they said I needed a new heart. Then they told me I didn’t need a new heart, I just needed a pace-maker. Of course I couldn’t train anymore if I got that, so I didn’t get it. I kept going back to the cardiologist, and she kept saying ‘it’s a miracle, I can’t believe you just keep getting better.’ Turns out the human body is pretty crazy. If you stand back and give it a chance to heal, it will.
“My body healed to the point that my cardiologist one day said ‘you’re good. You’re like normal now.’ I said well ‘does that mean I can fight?’ She goes ‘yeah, I would sign off on you fighting.’ That’s about the time I got the call about bare-knuckle.”
This call to compete in bare knuckle boxing managed to help Chris Leben end his career on a much higher note. Despite not being able to win his final fight, he says that he is proud of being able to go all five rounds, without quitting.
“My third and final [bare-knuckle] fight, I fought Dakota Cochrane,” Leben said. “Tough guy, tough fight. There were some things leading up to the fight that didn’t work out in my favor. That doesn’t matter. Here’s what matters. I went out there and I fought five rounds. At the end of the fight, I had 36 stitches in my face. The side of my nose was ripped off. I had a broken orbital. But I answered every bell, and I finished that fight on my feet.
“What matters is, I didn’t finish my carer on the stool,” Leben stated. “So, reflecting on it and thinking about, to be able to come back to combat sports after a lifetime of combat sports, to be able to come back, have those three fights, have that last fight be a knock-down, drag-out war, and finish it in traditional ‘Crippler’ fashion… I feel like I accomplished what I set out to accomplish.”
The career of Chris Leben has been full of highs and lows. Hopefully he can find success and peace in his further endeavors