Story and photos by Anthony Springer, Jr.
Chris Leben’s inner demons have been well publicized.
The cast member from the original Ultimate Fighter has excelled in the cage, but has suffered knockdowns due to excessive drinking and drug use.
Leben’s most well-known bout with controlled substances came after a headlining loss to Michael Bisping at UFC 89. In the days following the contest, Leben tested positive for Stanozolol, a performance enhancing drug. The positive test cost “The Crippler” an eight month UFC suspension and put his MMA career in jeopardy.
If last night’s performance at The Ultimate Fighter 11 finale is any indication, the pink haired middle weight performed an out of cage exorcism prior to his bout with Aaron Simpson. A heavy underdog coming into the fight with the wrestling standout, Leben utilized his Octagon experience and superior cardio to earn a TKO victory in the second round of the fight.
Despite being dominated in the first round, Leben says the slow start was all a part of his game plan.
“[Simpson] is a fast starter,” Leben says. “I knew he was going to come out hard and heavy. Let’s feel him out in the clinch, I might’ve looked a little lazy, but I know in the second and third he was going to wear himself out and my experience was going to allow my cardio was going to push thru.”
Simpson seemed to hit the iron-chinned Leben with everything but the kitchen-sink in the opener. When superior wrestling and heavy shots didn’t do the trick, Leben says the tide began to turn.
“He started to break. My goal was to start out here,” Leben says, motioning down, “and finish here,” he adds pointing upward.
The victory is Leben’s second in a row moves him back into the middle weight picture. And while the win—and accompanying $25,000 Knockout of the Night bonus—is sweet, Leben says he’s in no hurry to get back to the action.
“My goal is to be the best martial artist I can be. I don’t necessarily want to fight in two or three months. I want to get better. So the next time, you guys see a better, crisper Chris Leben.”
The renewed dedication reveals Leben’s obsession with fighting, which he says puts him in the same company as workers in another non-traditional profession.
“I’ve gotta say, fighters are like strippers; they’re not paying their way thru college,” he says. “Nobody in their right mind would say, ‘Fuck college, screw my guidance counselor. I’m going to put all my chips into one basket and become a cage fighter, so I can get the crap kicked out of me for other people.’ It’s that obsessive energy we have that makes us different.
“Obviously it’s caused a lot of problems in my life,” he adds. “For me, it’s all or nothing. I’m either eating ice cream and candy or dieting 100 percent. If I go out and have a drink, I’m going to get fucking trashed. It’s the same thing in the ring. It’s that type of personality that got us here.”
Demons aside, if “here” is the UFC, it’s unlikely Leben wants to be anywhere else.