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Chris Leben 'didn't realize that people didn't wake up and drink every day' before TUF 1

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The first season of The Ultimate Fighter changed the game for MMA and the UFC. It also changed Chris Leben's life.

There isn't much "The Crippler" would alter about everything he learned about himself and other people on the reality series, he told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.

"I didn't realize until the end of the show that I had a lot of issues," Leben said. "I didn't realize that people didn't wake up and drink every day. I mean, I had been living in my own world."

Leben goes more in depth about his difficult early life, struggles with addiction and successful, yet tumultuous MMA career in a new book, "The Crippler: Cage Fighting and My Life on the Edge."

The 10-year anniversary of the TUF 1 Finale was last week. And there has been buzz around the season since a long-form feature was written about Jason Thacker, the black sheep of the Ultimate Fighter 1, by's Chuck Mindenhall. Leben was a villain in Thacker's story and has regrets about it. Leben urinated on Thacker's bed during when they were living in the same house on the show.

"I didn't realize that I was so different than every body else," Leben said. "Definitely looking back it's eye-opening. I would just want to let him know that, 'Hey man, I've grown up a lot since then.' I know that a lot of the stuff that happened on the show made me who I am today. So I wouldn't take anything back. I wouldn't change anything, because I truly believe everything happens for a reason."

Leben, who essentially grew up in a meth house, has been clean of pain medication for 3 ½ years, he told Helwani. The Portland native is still in counseling, though, and still dealing with anger issues.

Overall, Leben is happy in retirement. He's the head coach at Victory MMA in San Diego, co-hosts a show on ESPN Radio and has a strong personal life.

"I'm in a wonderful marriage," Leben said. "I have a great job. I have a lot of things going for me. Sh*t, I can't complain."

Leben, 34, stepped away from MMA after a TKO loss to Uriah Hall at UFC 168 in December 2013. He hasn't thought about coming back since.

"I kind of knew I had my run, I had a little 10-year run," Leben said. "It was good. It's time for me to step away and let the other kids take the limelight."

Leben has always enjoyed coaching, going back to his days at Team Quest with Randy Couture and Dan Henderson. "The Crippler" counts UFC middleweight Justin Jones and Bellator prospect Ian Butler among his protégés.

"I'm kind of living the dream," Leben said. "A lot of fighters can't coach. A lot of coaches can't fight. I've always really enjoyed coaching or owning my own gym."

Writing the book was a form of therapy, Leben said, but it did bring back old demons. He said he had to ask his ghostwriter for breaks when the stories got heavy.

"There was times where it was like, I just don't want to do this," Leben said. "It's emotionally draining. A lot of that stuff, kind of like let sleeping dogs die. Rehashing some of that stuff was definitely hard for me.

"I'm a f*ckin' asshole sometimes. That's hard, too. Because you always want to paint this picture of yourself. Everyone wants to paint themselves as a great person, a hero. If something goes wrong, they want to blame someone else."

But for the most part, Leben is in a good place. He has no regrets about his MMA career, which featured wins over the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Patrick Cote and Mike Swick. And he's happy with where he's at now, too, especially since he's still very involved in the sport he loves.

"If it wasn't for wrestling, I would have never gotten through high school," Leben said. "If it wasn't for fighting, what I would have done? I don't know. I put all my eggs in one basket. I never looked back. I never thought I'd do anything else.

"All my chips were in, one way or another. MMA was what I was put here on this planet to do."

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