In fact, the entire year of 2012 is probably one Leben might wish to forget. The hard-hitting fan favorite rode the metaphorical pine all year after testing positive for painkillers in November 2011, and when he came back Saturday night, he dropped a unanimous decision to UFC debutante Derek Brunson in a 15-minute snoozefest that saw both men gas badly and fail to consistently display any notable offense of any kind.
Unfortunately, last November wasn't the setting of Leben's first positive drug test. But if he turns in another performance like the one he turned in Saturday night, it could be the last.
Leben (22-9) is now 32 years old, but may be more advanced in corporeal terms because of all those odometer clicks he's put on himself over the years, thanks to all those fights and all those struggles with substance abuse.
Personally, though, I don't want to see Leben go out like this. He has captured the hearts and minds of many, many people who love his brawling style and thunderous fists or recognize his personal demons as their own.
Nevertheless, he'll need to do better his next time out. A lot better. Here are five middleweights who could provide a solid litmus test for "The Crippler."
This Greg Jackson MMA trainee lost in August to Yushin Okami, but he's still 12-3 overall and 1-1 in the UFC. He has a well-rounded game that can make Leben think in any phase.
Michael Kuiper and Caio Magalhaes square off Jan. 19 at UFC on FX 7. Magalhaes (5-1, 0-1 UFC) is a jiu-jitsu black belt but still pretty green.
A well-rounded fighter who loves to strike, Dutchman Kuiper is only 23 but already 12-1, including a 1-1 mark in the UFC.
Jared Hamman is a tough-as-nails middleweight who tends to participate in fights that stop with a knockout, regardless of whether Hamman's hand is raised in the end. In fact, 14 of his 18 pro fights (10 wins, four losses) ended that way. He's an underappreciated brawler who would make a great foil for Leben.
A fan favorite right out of the Leben playbook, the colorful Tom Lawlor is coming off of a close decision loss to Francis Carmont at UFC 154. His powerful wrestling could once again put Leben's ground skills to the test.
Kind of hard to believe these two have never crossed paths in the cage.
These two standout veterans of the middleweight division could link up for a retirement match (formally defined or otherwise). Both men are, frankly, recovering from unimpressive performances, with Rich Franklin losing by a highlight-reel knockout to Cung Le this fall.