Truth be told, Chris Leben didn’t plan on fighting again.
The 40-year-old veteran had already called it a career after engaging in a five-round battle with Dakota Cochrane in a bare-knuckle fight in 2019 and he was at peace with that decision. Then the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the United States throughout 2020 and it put Leben’s plans to open a gym on hold and it gave an executive at Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships a window of opportunity.
“The Dakota Cochrane fight, there was a lot of things in the build up to that fight that didn’t work out well for me. The weight cut and everything else,” Leben explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “Nonetheless, the fight was a five-round war. Obviously, the judges had it going the other way but for me, I was actually happy that I went out on a bloodbath fight. I fought all five rounds. I was OK, that’s it, I’m done.
“It was really (BKFC matchmaker) Nate Shook was in my ear. He’s like ‘I know all the stuff before the fight that you were going through, you should go out on a win.’”
With more than 30 professional fights in his MMA career, coupled with a 3-1 resume in bare-knuckle competition, Leben had plenty of wins on his resume already but it was still tough looking at a loss as the final notation on his record.
The slight prodding from BKFC’s matchmaker made Leben think that maybe he should end his career on a win and considering he was still in fight shape, a plan for one more fight started to come together.
“I love Nate but being a little bit of a promoter though. I was like yeah, I should go out on a win,” Leben said. “It would be way better to retire with a ‘W’ than an ‘L.’
“I start thinking about it, I’m like I’m healthy with Covid and everything else going on, there’s not a lot I can do in the way of reffing and focusing on opening my gym out here so I’m kind of a landing pattern, more or less, until this vaccination gets out further. So let’s do it. You’re right. I went for it.”
Leben certainly made the most of the opportunity after blasting opponent Quentin Henry with a flurry of punches that ultimately led to a TKO victory at just 67 seconds into the opening round.
Afterwards, Leben lived up to his promise to officially announce his retirement.
Now weeks later, the UFC and BKFC veteran is content with that decision and he’s looking forward to the next phase of his career where he plans to honor a former coach by hopefully influencing the next generation of martial artists with the lessons he’s learned throughout a career spent taking punches and dishing out a whole lot of punishment.
“Listen, I’ve been fighting my whole life,” Leben said. “I’ve put in the time. I did the work. It’s time for me to move on. As a martial artist, move onto the next step, which opening my own place, developing my own lineage. Taking these young fighters from zero training all the way up to UFC, Bellator, BKFC, level competitors.
“I had a great coach in my past, Robert Follis, he was such a mentor to me. He saved my life. I think a ton of other professional fighters would say the same thing. I want to be what he was for me to other people. So that’s my goal.”
Of course like any great prize-fighter, Leben will always listen to offers that could be made to lure him back to the ring, although he’s not expecting that to happen unless one particular name comes across his desk.
“Unless I’m fighting Jake Paul or something crazy like that, that’s it. I’m done,” Leben said. “I really don’t have a desire, I don’t have anything to prove. If I did, it’s because somebody wants to pay me a zillion dollars.”
On social media, Leben has entertained a number of requests from fans who say he should return for one more fight to silence Paul, who has touted himself as the future of boxing after amassing a 2-0 record in the sport.
The YouTube celebrity and so-called “social influencer” is now preparing for a boxing match against former Bellator and ONE champion Ben Askren, who was far better known for his wrestling than his striking during a successful mixed martial arts career.
That said, Leben can’t fault Paul for taking advantage of every opportunity that’s presented to him just like the combat sports community should be happy he’s bringing more eyes to the sport.
“Honestly, a lot of people want to act like they’re true martial artists and they’re pure to the sport and it’s a disgrace. That’s all bullsh*t,” Leben said. “Listen, they’re bringing a lot of eyes to combat sports. They’re bringing a lot of attention and a lot of focus and that’s good for us. Right now, BKFC is the fastest-growing sport in the world. Combat sports are now in everybody’s home. These combat sports athletes are household names. 10 years ago, that wasn’t the case. People are getting greedy. Don’t act like that.
“Let’s take it. It makes sense. It makes money. It draws attention. It’s like Conor [McGregor] fighting [Floyd] Mayweather, look that’s a great fight. It was great for MMA. It was great for boxing. Because you had the MMA fans watching the MMA guy, you had MMA guys ordering a boxing pay-per-view. Now all of a sudden you’ve got crossover fans, more embedded in combat sports as a whole. I think there’s no bad about it.”
He may not have a problem with Paul making money as a boxer much less anybody cashing in to fight him but Leben can’t help but question the level of competition he’s faced thus far.
That’s why Leben would be more than happy to come back for one more fight as long as Paul’s name was on the other end of the contract.
“What I do think is beating up some point guard, some washed up retired point guard that’s never trained in his life, going out there and knocking him out, I kind of want to back hand the matchmaker of that one,” Leben said about Paul’s win over Nate Robinson. “But if we’re putting together real fights that work to some extent, then for sure. People want to pay. People want to watch [Mike] Tyson-Roy Jones, gotta give the people want they want.
“Absolutely [I’d fight Jake Paul]. You want to put an extra zero on my paycheck to fight that guy? I just fought Quentin Henry. Yeah, absolutely could fight that guy.”