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Feeling better and with things looking up, Chris Leben finds himself a new market

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

First of all, if you are in the market for a house in the San Diego area — or anywhere, really — you can e-mail Chris Leben at christhecrippler@gmail.com. Second of all, hold up: Did you know that Chris "The Crippler" Leben is a freaking real estate agent?

He is. Or technically, he’s not yet. He’s a real estate associate with Keller Williams, but he’s done all his tests and he’s got all his paperwork is in. A few hurdles are left (stemming back to his trouble with law enforcement, which he’s trying to resolve), but he’s clearing those hurdles one by one.

Think about that a moment. Chris Leben. The renegade of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter…the orange-haired madcap who used to jump into the Willamette from the bridges of Portland for the odd thrill…the brawler guy who grew more dangerous the more he got punched in the face — who in fact staggered forward on toddler legs winging bombs when anybody got near his black spot — dealing in coffee nooks and man caves.

What? When? Why?

He says it all makes sense.

"My girlfriend, both of her parents work in the real estate field, and then also I’m working for a guy named Jason Stewart — I do the commentary for his fight promotion, which is Epic Fighting here in San Diego — and they all do really well," he says. "And what I noticed was that their personalities is, they’re just talkers. Kind of like me. I always tell people, the only thing faster than my hands is my mouth. So I enjoy talking to people, so real estate kind of makes sense."

Leben has always had a way with words. Who can forget the time he and Michael Bisping fought in England —his hair in black cornrows on that occasion — and, like a tragicomic on open mic night, said to the crowd with his face busted purple and blue, "Is that what you came to see? Did I give you guys what you wanted?" ’Twas a Roman moment for the bloodthirsty.

Through all his troubles, Leben has always had a way of staying to the side of fan-friendly. It’s hard to imagine him talking about crown molding.

Back at UFC 82, I can remember the Greek fighter Alessio "Legionarius" Sakara just slamming his knuckles upside Leben’s head in a stirring quiet of the Nationwide Arena in Columbus when some jokester shouted out, "Hey Leben, you’ve got to move your face!" There was some laughter. But that to me embodied Leben’s style — sort of masochistic, bloody, rarely elegant. His career ended between rounds on his stool against Uriah Hall in 2013, a fizzle at the end when for years he dealt in dynamite.

He won his share of fights, though. He took his licks. He got back up. He kept going in one direction or another.

But in selling houses, Leben is setting off on a different course. Perhaps a tamer one than he is used to. He says he began doing it a couple of months ago, and yet there’s a little red tape to clear through. Back in July of last year, Leben — who has had a rocky career with addiction to pain meds, alcohol abuse, DUIs, and most recently a diagnosis of failing health that prevented his comeback — was arrested and charged with a felony possession of an assault weapon. He did a stint in jail beginning last September.

As with his decade in the UFC, the ghosts of his past lurk over his present.

"Due to some of my past brushes with the law, I had a couple of hoops I had to jump through [for getting licensed]," he says. "But everything is in Sacramento now, so hopefully it won’t be long."

There’s a joy to Leben’s voice, and you hope it stays there. Part of it has to do with him dealing with his life-threatening heart issue, which he discovered back in March when he signed with Bellator and was hoping to make a comeback. At the time he soberly explained his condition on The Luke Thomas Show, saying that his heart was operating at 18 percent capacity. The one thing he leaned on metaphorically was failing him literally. Again, Leben was stalking down the punches.

Seven months later, resilient as ever, he says things are improving.

"I’ve never felt better, honestly," he says. "Even when right before when I was going to sign with Bellator, before I found out, I was training hard and I didn’t feel bad. Apparently you just don’t notice when your heart’s not functioning properly. The doctors were blown away when I was able to perform as I was with my heart as low as it was. I’ve had it checked twice since then. It went from 18 to 24, and from 24 to 30, so it’s almost doubled. They say about 65 percent would be perfect."

Leben says he is on a steady diet of medications and herbal remedies to help improve his heart’s function.

"Lucas [Stone], the owner at the gym I coach at [The Arena], has helped me a lot," he says. "He’s done a ton of research on supplementation for your heart. So I’ve got about 20 different herbs and powders that I take like clockwork a couple of times a day. I think that’s really what’s been making the change. I’m doing the Eastern and the Western thing. So I’m also taking medicine the doctors are giving me."

He is doing better. He’s still got his hand in MMA. He’s selling houses in his post-fight career. He used to fight with an astonished lack of self-preservation, just a wheelhouse fighter gunning to land more than he took. These days, "The Crippler" can sell you a property, if you’re looking.

"Here’s the thing," he says. "I can find a real estate agent no matter where they’re at. They can be in Dubai, and I can find them a real estate agent. It doesn’t cost them any extra, I just get 30 percent of whatever that real estate agent would have made. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or e-mail me, if anyone wants to get in touch with me."