After 12 years and a UFC record 22 middleweight fights inside the Octagon, Chris Leben is calling it quits. "The Crippler" appeared on Monday's episode of The MMA Hour to make his announcement official.
"It's been a fantastic, wonderful ride," Leben said. "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.
"After [UFC 168], I wanted to go back and reevaluate things, make sure that the decision wasn't based purely on emotion. That it was really what I wanted to do. And now, yes, I can say, I've really retired from competing in MMA."
Leben, who began his mixed martial arts career in 2002, recently signed on to become a team coach at Victory MMA & Fitness, a state-of-the-art gym in San Diego, CA. He says that while he always felt he was a good fighter, his true skillset lies in coaching.
"I'm 33 years old now, which isn't the oldest for a fighter. But like I tell people, it's not how old you are, but it's how long you've been doing it. And I've been doing this game for quite a while," Leben said.
"I've got a lot of years ahead of me. 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."
A perennial fan favorite and one of the founding cast members of The Ultimate Fighter, Leben retires with a 22-11 career MMA record, along with a 12-10 UFC record -- although five of those 10 losses came over the course of his final six bouts, including the most recent of which, a stark TKO loss to Uriah Hall at UFC 168.
After nearly getting finished by Hall at the end of the opening frame, Leben quit on the stool before the second round could commence. The gesture, which is unfortunately rarely seen in mixed martial arts, was admirable, and though Leben isn't happy about it in retrospect, he still understands the logic behind his decision.
"That first five minutes was just absolutely horrible," he said. "It was more of the same, as far as what my last couple opponents have been doing, to where nobody really wants to -- and I understand why -- but they're not going to stand in front of me, toe to toe, and just swing like guys used to try before. Now I've got a guy with six or nine inches of reach advantage that's definitely a better athlete than I am, that's running away from me as fast as he can and is only going to hit me with these little shots. It was one of those things where, personally, I knew the only thing that was going to happen was two more rounds of that, until he really got me upset and I was rushing in and he hit me with that crazy spinning kick that he does.
"The bottom line is, I've been with the actual UFC now for almost 10 years and I really feel like I've kind of grown with them, parallel with them. In this sport, you're either moving forward or you're moving backward," Leben continued.
"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. But when you look at these guys now, like Uriah Hall, they're just a different breed of athlete than I am. The game has been evolving and changing so much, so rapidly, that I'm actually pretty happy that I can say I was in it for as long as I was in it."
Known as one of the most game fighters in the sport, Leben racked up six post-fight bonuses throughout his UFC career, while fighting a collection of the best talent the 185-pound division had to offer.
His career peaked in 2010, when Leben accepted to meet Yoshihiro Akiyama two weeks after a ‘Knockout of the Night' win over Aaron Simpson, then subsequently submitted Akiyama via third-round triangle. Although, it was the memory of the win that came next that Leben treasures the most.
"Wanderlei (Silva) has always been my hero," Leben remembered fondly. "When I started fighting, I used to walk two miles down to the store, where I could buy these bootleg Pride videos to watch Wanderlei fight. Really, watching him is what got me into the sport. So that win over Wanderlei (at UFC 132) was probably, for me, that was icing on the cake."
Throughout his up and down and sometimes troubled road, Leben also received two suspensions from the UFC for his use of banned substances. Leben first tested positive for the anabolic steroid Stanozolol in 2008, then tested positive for oxy-morphine and oxycodone in 2011.
Following his second suspension, Leben made an emotional appearance on The MMA Hour where he admitted to battling addiction problems his entire life and called the positive drug test "the best thing to ever happen to me."
Regardless of any setbacks, though, Leben says he leaves the sport without any lingering regrets about how his career played out.
"None. It was a wild ride, like I said, and a lot of times it was really uncomfortable. I definitely made some decisions that were not very good. But I think all that goes into ... the reason I'm in the situation I am now, and (why) I'm who I am right now, and I'm where I'm at right now. I think everything really happens for a purpose," Leben said in closing.
"I really am happy, and I think that's the biggest thing. I just don't have that mean streak anymore like I used to. I really am in a good place. I'm happy with my life. I have a good life. I'm not angry at anybody, so yeah, pretty amazing, but I definitely turned things around. [My wife and I have] been continuing to walk down the right road, She's kind of like my 401k. I've got her in law school down here in San Diego, so only the brightest is in the future for us."