Chris Leben: The Warrior’s Way
He was never a champion, nor was he ever really a contender, yet without him, the UFC would not exist today.
Eight days ago, January 20th, 2014, Chris “The Crippler” Leben announced he was stepping away from the fighting side of mixed martial arts, and was accepting a job as a coach at Victory MMA and Fitness.
My career was one hell of a roller coaster ride. Highs and lows and everything in between, but I wouldn’t change anything. It’s made me who I am today. And without all of you, there’s no way I could have got through it.
Mixed martial artists, especially as they come to the end of their careers, often talk about their legacies and how important it is for them to be remembered for something more than just “another fighter.” Chris Leben will always be known as more than just another athlete who stepped into the cage. His legacy will always be that of a warrior – a guy who never turned down a fight, who used the fight game as a way to heal old wounds, as the first reality television star of the modern UFC era.
Leben became a household name via the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. In a season that started the UFC careers of Forrest Griffen, Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian and Josh Koscheck, it was Leben who was truly the star of the show. His blend of raw emotion and fighting prowess, made him the most popular fighter to come out of the season. Once the show was over, Leben took his career to another level.
What’s interesting about Leben’s characterization on the show was that he started off being edited as the show’s top heel. In the first episode of the show, his cocky attitude not only rubbed his fellow fighters the wrong way, but it came across on television as if he, himself, was too good to be on the show. Add to this, the incident that would lead off a chain of chaotic Ultimate Fighter events – an intoxicated Leben urinated on the bed of the innocent Jason Thacker. This wouldn’t be the first time alcohol would play a role in a memorable reality television show moment involving Leben. On a future episode, fellow competitors Bobby Southworth and Josh Koscheck would get into a heated confrontation with Leben, famously calling him a “fatherless bastard.” At this point, Leben turned from an evil character to the sympathetic hero of the show.
The rest of Leben’s career, as he said, was filled with ups and downs. Personally, I’ll never forget his battle with Wanderlei Silva at UFC 132. It seemed as though in the cage, Silva and Leben were mirror images – two warriors who put their personal well being on the back burner. For them, it was about the entertainment; the idea that you need to knock your opponent out before they do the same to you. Watching the two sluggers go at was a viewer’s dream. On the other side of things there was the UFC introduction of Anderson Silva. Leben welcomed him to the octagon, and like many that came after, Anderson would prove to be too highly skilled on his feet for his opponent.
While I will always remember Chris Leben as one of the first true warriors and characters of the modern UFC, I would not be doing my job if I did not bring up the fact that part of his career was shadowed by drugs and alcohol. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in addiction, or what that can do to the body of a fighter expected to preform at the level he was. Moreover, I can’t help but think where Leben’s career would have gone if these issues didn’t plague him.
In the end, Leben seems content with his career. Could he have accomplished more? For sure. Will he look back at his career with regrets? I don’t think so. The next stage of his career leads him to the world of coaching. If Leben can instil any of his heart and warrior attitude to his pupils, the world of MMA will be a better place.
Chris Leben was never the best.
Chris Leben was never a champion.
Chris Leben will never be forgotten.