Chris Leben Interview: A Crippling Conversation

Chris Leben
Credit: Dave Mandel/

Chris Leben discusses his post-fighting endeavors, his career highlights, and more with Cageside Press

Before Conor McGregor burst on the MMA scene with dynamite in his left hand, there was an Ultimate Figher Season 1 alum who had a crippling left hand of his own. Chris Leben had a mixed martial arts career spanned over a decade at the highest level, and he nearly accomplished everything he set out to do in the sport.

In his post-fighting career, Leben has stayed active around the sport. Nowadays you can find ‘The Crippler’ passing on knowledge to students at his gym, cornering fighters, or his latest endeavor, refereeing MMA contests.

Cageside Press recently caught up with the UFC icon to talk about his new career, his greatest achievement, the possibility of a comeback, and more.

“I’ve talked a lot of shit”

It’s surprising that more retired fighters don’t get involved in other areas of the sport, that being said, how does one transition into refereeing MMA? It’s not like you can take classes at your local community college for such an occupation.

“I got in touch with Herb Dean and signed up for his judging and reffing course,” Leben said regarding his post-fight career. “It’s crazy being on the other side, I’ve talked a lot of shit about a lot of refs, but being in the cage as a ref you want it to be fair, and you have to protect both fighters. There is only one winner, not everyone is going to be happy with you.”

It’s hard to believe that ‘The Crippler’ was an original cast member of TUF way back in 2004 and now Leben just turned 37 years old. The obvious question had to be asked: Is there any chance of a ‘Crippler’ comeback?

“Probably not, I thought about it,” Leben declared. “I got some great news from my doctors, and I’ve been taking care of my health, but it would be more of a novelty. I’ve switched gears in my life now.”

Speaking of a comeback, one of the best come-from-behind victories in combat sports was Chris Leben vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 116. But what does the original wildman of TUF consider his career highlight?

“Probably my win over Wanderlei Silva,” Leben said. “Because he was my hero, and because I had to lobby to get that fight. (Silva) didn’t want that fight, and Dana (White) didn’t want to give me the fight.”

Leben once famously said he has a button on his head, and when someone touches that button he bites down on his mouthpiece and starts swinging. Fans had to wonder if this was an attribute he was born with or one he developed during his career.

“That’s just my natural self-preservation instinct,” the Oregon native said. “If I get hurt, I just go slightly ballistic. Whereas other guys get hurt, they want to make space, they want to run, they want to try to recover. My brain doesn’t work like that, if you hurt me, I’m going to try and hurt you back.”

Before ‘Mystic Mac’ took over the sport of MMA with his left hand, there was a young, brash, fighter that would keep you guessing as to the color of his hair and also had ‘crippling’ KO power in his left hand, hence the nickname.

Now that it’s finally fight week for the biggest fight of the decade, Mayweather vs. McGregor, we can just about put all this circus-style coverage to sleep. Perhaps it’s a guilty pleasure, but it’s interesting to get the opinions of MMA legends on this superfight.

“I can’t go to the post office or the grocery store without some random fan wanting to know my input on the McGregor fight. Mayweather is arguably the best boxer of all time, he has maybe been hit a half-dozen times in his life, he’s unstoppable at boxing. McGregor has decent hands…for an MMA guy, but he has a black belt in trash talking though.”

Chris Leben gave us everything he had inside the Octagon, and he is not done giving back to the sport just yet. Instead of fighting inside the cage, he will now be the third person in there.

Look for ‘The Crippler’ to be refereeing mixed martial arts contests for many years to come.

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