But in October Leben appeared to take a step backwards when he was arrested in Hawaii on suspicion of DUI. While he has a court date coming up in February of 2011, Leben said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that he doesn't expect to face any serious consequences as a result of the incident.
"George [W.] Bush got a DUI and he ended up being the president," Leben told MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani. "I really feel as though nothing's really going to happen with it, honestly. I don't want to talk about it too much, and it's still in the works. But I don't think it's going to be a big deal."
To hear Leben tell it, he "kind of messed up" when he "went down and had a couple of beers with some of the guys from my gym right before I left after practice." When he got in his new truck and headed for home, he said, he wasn't intoxicated, but did have some alcohol in his system.
"I'd bought a new truck, and I had never drove a truck before. It had just rained. Apparently I stepped on the gas a little too hard so I kind of slid out and hit the embankment of the highway, and the cops were working right there, so they saw me," said Leben.
"Somebody told me, you know, you're not supposed to blow [into a Breathalyzer] if you get pulled over. I don't know, I guess my lawyer says that's not necessarily the case now, but I didn't blow. I didn't take the test, just because I know that in Hawaii if you get in an accident [the legal blood-alcohol limit is] .05 if there's an accident, not even .08, so it's super-duper low. I definitely wasn't hammered, but I was definitely in the wrong. I didn't blow so, you know, who knows what's going to happen now."
Leben was already booked to take on Brian Stann at UFC 125, so initially there was some concern on the UFC's part that the arrest might keep him out of the fight, Leben said.
"They called me. They were definitely concerned that it was going to cause an effect on my ability to show up for the fight. But once I let them know that it wasn't going to cause any problem, you know, I'm going to be able to get there, I'm going to be able to perform, it's not going to be a problem...hopefully, mostly likely I'm not going to get charged with a DUI, so they weren't too worried about it."
While Leben awaits his February court date he is unable to drive in Hawaii "for now," he said, which means he's had to get rides to and from training sessions from various teammates as he prepares for the bout with Stann.
As for what he tells the Hawaii-based MMA squad he coaches about his latest brush with the law, Leben said it hasn't been a frequent topic of conversation in the gym.
"Basically, I told them the same thing I'm telling everybody," Leben said. "Hindsight's 20/20. Yeah, I made a mistake. My blood-alcohol level was never checked. Did I have a few drinks? Yes. Was I hammered? No. Other than that, I'm not saying anything because it's still...it's not finished."
Leben, who had a prior arrest for DUI in Oregon and was forced to miss a scheduled bout with Michael Bisping in 2008 as a result of a probation violation, has been frank about his struggles with substance abuse in the past. The recent arrest made him reevaluate the role of alcohol in life, he said, but the struggle isn't necessarily over.
"For now I have [stopped drinking]," Leben said. "You know, it's a one day at a time deal with me. Right now I've got some great people around me. ...[Drinking is] the last thing on my mind. Obviously, it's going to be in front of me at another time, and I'm going to have to make that choice then."
Currently, Leben said, his only focus is his upcoming fight with Stann on January 1. The choice of opponent came as a bit of a shock, Leben admitted, especially after his submission victory over Yoshihiro Akiyama.
"I was a little bit surprised. Akiyama gets to go fight Bisping, and I get Brian Stann. So, you know, it was a little bit tough," Leben said. "...I think [the UFC] look[s] at, [Stann] did good in his last fight, and they know it makes an exciting fight, and either way it's a win. If he wins it builds him up, and if I win that's four wins in a row for me, and then who knows? Sometimes they'll do things and I don't have a clue why they did them, to be honest with you."
But for Leben, who called out former Pride champion Wanderlei Silva following his win over Akiyama, the stakes against Stann are clear enough. With a win to start the new year, his goal of getting a fight with Silva might finally come to fruition.
"Hopefully I go out and I crush Brian Stann and I get in their ear a little more about it, and some things will happen," he said.