Chris Leben, the enigmatic, tangerine-haired middleweight who many consider a mixed martial arts pioneer, official announced his retirement last Monday. He leaves the sport after competing in 33 fights over an 11-year span, nine years of which were spent in the UFC.
“It’s been a fantastic, wonderful ride,” Leben, 33, said during his appearance on The MMA Hour last week. “I’ve landed more strikes than anybody out there. Definitely highs and lows, ups and downs, but I think I’m starting to realize that, for me, it might be time to make that transition away from competing and get more on the coaching side of things.”
Prior to making his decision official, Leben tweeted about his new coaching position with Victory MMA and Fitness, a San Diego-based training facility.
Leben’s announcement signifies the end a tumultuous career that had its fill of highs and lows. ‘The Crippler’ will always be associated with The Ultimate Fighter 1, the reality series that launched numerous careers and catapulted the UFC into American households. Leben’s emotional confrontations with Bobby Southworth and Josh Koscheck would make him one of the most outspoken fighters on the show.
After making his UFC debut in 2005, Leben won five straight bouts before losing to then-UFC newcomer Anderson Silva in a No. 1 contender match. Leben never competed for the middleweight championship, but victories over Wanderlei Silva, Patrick Cote, and most memorably Yohishiro Akiyama, have secured his place in UFC history.
“I really can’t be upset. I’ve had a wonderful career. And again, I didn’t start fighting until I was 21 years old. Back then you could actually get in the UFC, win and do well, just on being a tough guy. I was a tough guy, I had some techniques, and that always worked for me,” Leben said.
Following his UFC 116 victory of Akiyama, Leben was arrested for driving under the influence, his second DUI in as many years. He also failed two post-fight drug tests, once against Michael Bisping in Oct. 2008 and again in Nov. 2011 after losing to Mark Munoz. The loss to Munoz marked the beginning the end for Leben as he would lose four consecutive fights.
The Portland, Ore. native’s fiery ring presence and bull-headed personality made him a hit with fans. Leben (22-11) won’t garner much consideration for the Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t take away from his importance to MMA, the UFC, and today’s crop of fighters.
“I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me,” Leben said. “I would like to still have my head on my shoulders and have a brain when I’m raising kids and doing all the other stuff that I want to be part of. I think it might just be time for me to gracefully bow out.”
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