UFC fighter and former The Ultimate Fighter contestant Chris Leben sat down with us yesterday for an exclusive interview. Chris is preparing for his fight against Jason MacDonald that takes place tomorrow night, Saturday, December 30th, in Las Vegas. It will Leben’s first UFC Pay-Per-View fight.
We discussed how Chris got started fighting, his preparations for Saturday’s fight, and what the future holds.
First off, I just want to thank you for taking the time to chat with us during what is a busy time for you obviously in advance of a huge fight for you this Saturday night at UFC 66 with Jason. Your one of the most entertaining people in the fight game in my book, so thanks for being so colorful and generous with your time.
Maybe we can chat about that tattoo work you’re having done on your back. The last time I saw you, you were getting some serous ink work done. What is it and is it ready to be unveiled this weekend?
Well, you know, it’s a work in progress and I’m still going on it. It’s just a Samurai cutting off some dude’s head and holding a bloody head in his hand.
Nice. It looked pretty expansive across your back last time, but good to hear. We can’t wait to see it.[laughs] Yeah I got the rest of it colored in and I’m actually scheduled for a couple of days as soon as this fight is over to get some more work done, so every fight you should be seeing something new on me.
Nice. So, obviously, you’ve been fighting on Spike for a long time, but this is your first televised pay-per-view event. What are you looking forward to, personally, this Saturday night other than putting the stamp down on Jason?
Well, he beat one of my good teammates, good friend of mine, Ed Herman, and I think he just really didn’t get a chance to get going in that fight and he’s a lot better than that. He’s been my training partner since day one and I want to go in and show him what our gym is made of and go in there and really destroy him and make an example out of him.
Fantastic. Are you having to cut a ton of weight before this fight?
Well yeah. It always sucks and it’s never fun. I got about 18 pounds to lose.
Between now and when?
Three O’Clock tomorrow.
What’s the process of cutting weight like for you?
Well, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s not fun, whatsoever. It involves me sitting in a sauna wearing a sweat suit, running until I think I’m gonna pass out and die, sitting in the sauna until I do pass out, and my coach drags me out, wakes me back up, and throws me back in the sauna when I’m crying and whining…it’s tough. It’s much more difficult then the fight. I look forward to the fight. I don’t look forward to cutting weight.
You came off a tough loss to Anderson Silva over the summer where you were knocked out, I believe that was your first time being knocked out ever, to come back and knock out Jorge Santiago in a great fight on Spike. What can we expect to see from you, fighting style-wise, this weekend against Jason, who we all know is kind of known more for his submission game?
Well, look for me to keep it exciting. That’s my plan. He’s telling people he wants to stand up with me and I’m going to test him to see if that’s true or not. I mean, he’s won 80 percent of his fights by submission. I like the ground. I like to go in and roll around and I like to have Jujitsu practices, but when I’m fighting, that’s not my thing. I’m going to look to make him fall on his face. I’m gonna’ look to punch him in his head and drop him and he’s probably gonna’ look to take me down and submit me. If he gets it to the ground one way or another, I’ll take a submission from down there. You know, I’m not afraid of doing that, but if I had my druthers, we’d all stand toe-to-toe in the ring.
Can you tell us about how you prepared yourself for this fight, about your training schedule, where you’re training right now, what your day-in, day-out routine looks like?
For this fight, most of my training I’ve done at Team Quest. I took a few trips up to AMC and trained there as well and it’s kinda the same thing I always do. This time I’ve been getting a little bit more serious, slowly but surely as I get older. They tell me I’m getting older and wiser, but I think my weight’s down lower than it has been in the past and my cardio is up, my conditioning is up. I’ve been really focused and have stayed in the gym. I haven’t had too many problems outside of training to pull me away, so I’ve really been able to get in the gym and focus on this fight.
For a lot of the fans that don’t know, how did you specifically get involved with the sport of mixed martial arts and how did you earn a spot on the Ultimate Fighter reality TV show?
The quick story was that I wrestled in high school and after practice, me and my friends used to hang out around the trainer and do arm bars and stuff that we saw when we watched the UFC. We tried to emulate the guys, and after I got out of high school, one day my brother said, “Hey, I’m selling cars at this place and they’re beating the crap out of each other in the back.” It turned out that that was Team Quest, it used to be Matt Lindland’s Auto Wholesale, and they had the little room in the back that wasn’t finished at all, with a couple mats. Matt Lindland’s back there, Randy Couture is back there, Nate Quarry is back there, Evan Tanner…and I was going, “Holy Crap!”
So, I started training. I think I was Team Quest’s twelfth student ever. I started training and after about five days of training, everyday I came in, I’d ask my coach and you can ask him, he tells the story all the time. Everyday I came in and I didn’t say “Hi”, I didn’t say “Hello”, I’d say, “Robert, you got me a fight yet? You get me a fight yet, you get me a fight yet?” And soon as I had that first fight, there was no stopping me, I just kept on moving up. You always want to prove yourself again and again and fight the top competition and that’s what I did. A win and win and win and I went and fought Mike Swick, then after that fight, Randy came to me about the show and said “Hey, there’s a great opportunity. You should make a video and send it in.” So, that’s exactly what I did; I sent it in, and they brought me down for casting and they liked my personality and I was on the show and here I am.
You’ve certainly developed over the last few years, and we’ve all been able to watch that with each fight: improving your stand-up and other skills, like Muay Thai. What have you been working on specifically? Have you been focused more on your submissions and ground game preparing for Jason? What do you think you really need to work on to take it to the next level in this highly competitive 185 weight class?
Well, you know, that’s why you love the sport so much. You’re always growing, you’re always improving. And as soon as you don’t have something to work on, that’s when it’s time to hang up the gloves…start pension, you know. So, I mean, in my game, I write stuff down. People see me as being “Crazy Chris Leben” or whatever, but I take my training seriously, and at any one time, I can tell you ten things, ten holes in my game that I know need attention.
So, what am I working on? I’m always working on different stuff. Most of the time I train to be the best ever, and it’s a long road to get there. So, I don’t spend a lot of time training specifically on one thing, because I train to make myself better and better. In Jason’s case, we know he’s a submission guy, we know he likes triangle, we know he likes rear naked choke. Obviously, I work my defense for those a little bit. You know, work some take-down defense and some striking that will be effective against him. But yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Clearly, I know you’re not looking past this weekend, but what’s your next big challenge, or who do you really want next in this weight class?
Well, you know, I think Rich is coming off a tough loss against the only guy that I’ve lost to. And he was the big chief, you know what I mean? He’s the big thing, and then after I fought Anderson, he said, “Look what Anderson did to Chris Leben.” And his answer was, “Well yeah, Chris Leben is not that good, he’s not that great.” And you know, that kind of hurt my feelings. I took that to heart a little bit so I wouldn’t…I mean, it’s a tough fight for me, but, like I said, I’m a competitor and I want to challenge myself so…there you go.
[laughs] Well, that’s a tough one because I’m a pretty honest guy, you know what I mean? I’m straight up, what you see is what you get. There aren’t a lot of secrets about me. I don’t go home at night and write poetry. I don’t read love novels. I’m not an artist. I like cranking tunes, slugging beers, going fast, and kicking ass, you know? That’s pretty much it.
Can you tell your fans something about Chris Leben that they may not know? Something that wasn’t aired on the reality show, something that most people aren’t aware of.
How do you survive these brutal Pacific Northwest Winters?
I’ll tell you what – thank God for ’em. They were what got me to where I’m at. I mean, if I was in Southern California, I’d be on the beach, you know what I’m saying? If I was in Hawaii, I’d be out partying, dancing with the girls. The nice thing about living in the Pacific Northwest is it’s wet, cold, and most of the girls don’t look that good.
You got a ton of fans out there. But in the end, you’re either a Leben lover or a Leben hater. What do you want to tell your haters out there?
That’s just fine. Keep on hating because, you know what, I don’t give a shit about them. Really, it comes down to whether they care about me one way or another, and I am who I am, take it or leave it. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. Go ahead and spend your money and pay to see me lose, because you’re only making me richer.
Well I certainly enjoy watching you fight and we wish you nothing but continued good luck this weekend and to your career going forward, we wish you nothing but the best. Thanks again for your time taking to chat with us.
Hey, thank you.