After a nine-month suspension for using steroids, UFC middleweight Chris Leben is soon to return to action. Usually in a situation like that, a fighter would have to worry about negative public reaction to his comeback, but in this case, Leben is likely to be hailed as a conquering hero, as the 29-year-old veteran has the good fortune of returning at UFC 102 in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.
The match itself, however will not be easy; Leben (18-6) will take on former three-time NCAA wrestling national champion Jake Rosholt as a featured bout on the televised card.
"The Crippler" recently took a few moments out of his training to talk to FanHouse about his steroids suspension, returning to the octagon, and preparing for Rosholt.
Mike Chiappetta: How much are you looking forward to getting back in the cage?
Chris Leben: I'm really excited. It's been too long and I'm excited to get back and compete. I'm a fighter. That's what I do and I miss it for sure. I fighting, I miss training, I miss preparing, I miss competing. I miss all of it.
How did you use the time you were on suspension? Did you use the time to work on any specific skills?
I opened my own gym in Hawaii, the Ultimate Fight School [in Oahu]. I've been focused on opening that and running that. I've got over 100 students now and a fight team out there. So that keeps me busy. Then also, just training is what I've done for so many years that it's second nature to me. Regardless if I have a fight or not, I'm still going to get my conditioning in the morning. I'm still going to get my team training. I'm still going to bring different people in to work with me. I'm a martial artist regardless if I'm competing in the next week or not.
How difficult have the last nine months been like for you, because you had to deal with not only the suspension, but a loss on your record?
Obviously it wasn't easy but you move on. Everyone's lost before, and losses are always hard but you get over them. Everybody takes hits in life. You just have to say, I'm going to let this ruin me or I'm going to pick myself up. It wasn't easy but that's been my focus to get over it.
What was your reaction when you were told you tested positive for steroids and would be suspended?
A little bit of disbelief. It was something that I wasn't very happy about obviously. I didn't realize it would stay in my system for so long. I'm not an expert on it. It was something I'd done months before, so I thought I was... Ultimately, I paid the price for a mistake I made.
Why did you take steroids?
It was just to help training and I wanted to lose some weight, and I guess curiosity killed the cat, so to speak. But again, I'm rehabilitated now.
Did you have any concerns the UFC would cut you after the positive test?
I didn't know. I just didn't know what they'd do.
Did you lose any sponsors as a result?
I did. My nutrition sponsor.
Did anything positive come out of your situation?
I think it's a good example for other people of what not to do.
Do you feel like you have to rebuild your credibility with the fans, and if so, how do you go about doing that?
For me, I'm just excited to get back and compete again. I've got a great team, a great group of guys at home that I'm working with and focusing on. The people that train with me in Hawaii, the people that are helping me train in Oregon are the people I care about most. I jujst want to go in there and represent them well.
Do you have any concerns about ring rust after the layoff?
No, I don't. I've been training hard. This isn't my first, second, third, or fifteenth fight. I don't think I'll have any ring rust. It'll be the opposite.
Were you happy when the UFC came to you with Rosholt as an opponent?
To be honest with you, it's the UFC's job to pick who I'm going to fight and I'll take whoever the put in front of me. I was just glad to be able to get in the cage again.
What do you think of Rosholt's game?
I think he's a phenomenal wrestler. He's a four-time All-American. He's a national champ. There's no way you can say anything bad about having a set of skills like that.
What about the rest of his game?
I know he's been with Mark Laimon for a while, so I'm sure his grappling's gotten quite a bit better. From what I've seen, he's a goer. He likes to take people down and try to beat on them. Styles make fights, so we're going to have to see how this whole thing matches up.
You must feel like you have a big advantage on the feet?
Yeah, I think so.
Did you bring in any specialists to prepare for his wrestling?
Absolutely. Carl Barton, who wrestled at Penn State and now coaches at my school, I spent a lot of time with him. Then, out here in Oregon, Ed Herman, Matt Lindland, Chael Sonnen, and Nate Quarry, so I had some great guys with great wrestling skills on top of me. If I can get out from under them, I could get out from under anybody.
What if he decided to stand with you? He seems to like the fact that you're a straight-ahead guy.
It'd make my day. It would definitely make my day if that's his plan. I've stood with a lot of people so, we know that I'm not worried about that.
Where do you hope your career goes after the Rosholt fight?
Right now, to be at the point that I'm at with my life and everything that's taken place, I'm just looking at this fight. I'm just focusing on this fight. I'm not looking at what's going to happen next and what's further down the road. I'll worry about that on August 30.
Fighting in front of Portland, will it feel like a home game?
Absolutely, I'm born and raised here. Team Quest is where I started and I know everybody there. My friends and family are here. Being here is great.
How many people are you expecting to come out and support you at the arena?
A lot! I know every one of my friends has called me and told me they were able to get a bunch of tickets. And I'm a pretty cool guy, so I've got a lot of friends.