UFC 155: On Chris Leben and Addressing Personal Demons Through Substance Abuse

Matthew Roth@mattroth512Featured ColumnistDecember 28, 2012

PORTLAND, OR - AUGUST 29:  UFC fighter Chris Leben (L) battles UFC fighter Jake Rosholt (R) during their Middleweight bout at UFC 102:  Couture vs. Nogueira at the Rose Garden Arena on August 29, 2009 in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

This is a story that I've put off writing for quite some time. Part of the reason is because it's a personal one that I've never felt comfortable with publishing for a major audience to read. The other reason is because I've always had an excuse to not put these words down. 

If you've followed my life on Twitter, you know that I enjoy cracking open a cold one on occasion. Actually, it's quite often. I'm what's known as a drinker. Sometimes it's for social reasons while at other times it's to escape reality. 

However, more often than not, it's because I have lot of personal demons and drinking allows me to numb my brain and forget what has occurred in my past. It's never been a problem but this past weekend things came to a head. 

2012 has been a major year for me. While many know about my move from SB Nation to Bleacher Report, it's also been one where I've had to deal with a vast amount of personal tragedy. Between the death of my grandmother, my grandfather's worsening dementia, and personal heartbreak, it's been almost too much to bear.

I spent much of the year putting those issues and tragedies in the back of my mind. They were problems for Future Matt to deal with. 

That happened this past Friday night. While the details of why are not important, I ended up chugging an entire bottle of Jameson in around an hour. I don't say this with any bit of personal pride. In fact, I'm ashamed. 

I'm ashamed by the way I acted towards people that I care about and I'm ashamed that I felt the need to numb myself so much that I put my own life at risk. 

It's easy for people to judge when others have fallen on those proverbial hard times. It's even easier to stick your nose up when someone feels their only way to deal with those pains is with a bottle and a glass. 

Chris Leben is one of those people. 

For the record, I don't know Chris. I've never spoken with him. My only insight into his life is through various interviews that I've read and the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. 

It was clear back then that I had found a kindred spirit. A person who had such difficulty dealing with their past that they needed booze to function in every day life. 

Reflecting back, it's absolutely insane to think that no one recognized these self-destructive tendencies. Instead, he became the breakout star of that season. He was a reality television producer's wet dream.

When the man needed help or a hug, the producers likely saw rating numbers. At first it was harmless fun as the case of peeing in castmate Jason Thacker's bed. But then it quickly became apparent that he was carrying a ton of emotional baggage. 

It was one a fateful night that fans got to see the real Chris Leben. Not the man who entertained fans with knockouts or a granite-like chin, but the man who was fragile beyond all recognition. In two short words, Bobby Southworth cut deep into Leben's psyche. 

Years of pain and anguish gushed out as he was brought face to face with those demons he tried desperately to avoid addressing. 

Like me, he attempted to find solace in the bottle. 

Through the years, he's fought a losing battle with a past that continues to haunt him. Multiple DUIs and a one year suspension for painkillers have shown that even after moving to Hawaii to start over, he's been unable to excise those demons. 

The crazy thing is that people continued to ignore the very apparent signs because of his successes inside the cage. In fact, UFC President Dana White enabled him with more fights and opportunities, noting that Leben was the fighter of the year in 2010 and mentally "right where he needs to be."

That's not a knock against White, by the way. Friends will often overlook one's self-destructive behavior instead of confronting those problems. 

Saturday night, Leben will face Derek Brunson on the main card of UFC 155, his first fight in over a year. But it pales in comparison to the battles he's fought in his life. As tough as Brunson is, he'll never match the heartbreak and personal pain that Leben carries with him every day. 

I don't expect people to understand. As I said earlier, it's easy to pass judgment. But I hope the next person who sees Chris Leben gives him a hug and says "I care." Those little words have a greater impact than you'll ever know.