Chris “The Crippler” Leben, an often underappreciated pioneer of the UFC, has officially retired from MMA.
The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 star had been mulling over his next move after dropping his fourth consecutive loss to Uriah Hall at UFC 168. During an appearance on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, Leben announced that he would be hanging up the gloves for good:
After [the Hall fight], I wanted to go back and reevaluate things and make sure that the decision wasn’t based purely on emotion. That was really what I wanted to do. And now, yes, I can say I’ve retired from competing in MMA.
Leben won’t be remembered as a champion or even a title contender. Hell, it would be far-fetched to even consider him a Hall of Famer.
But his importance to MMA is no less than any all-time great that ever stepped through the Octagon door. The original TUF season turned a mildly relevant sport into the fastest growing sport in the world. Leben’s name will be forever etched with the likes of Forrest Griffin, Stephan Bonnar, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, Kenny Florian and others.
Despite never climbing to the top of the middleweight division, Leben has enjoyed several big moments in the UFC.
After making his debut in April 2005, he went on a five-fight win streak before earning a No. 1 contender’s bout against Anderson Silva. He would go on to lose that fight by TKO in the first round. Still, how many people in this world get to say they’ve competed against arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history?
Then there was Leben’s July 2010 fight against middleweight contender Yoshihiro Akiyama. A few days after knocking out Aaron Simpson, Leben was on the couch drinking beer and eating pizza when the UFC called and offered him the Akiyama fight on two weeks’ notice.
Being the red-headed daredevil that he was, Leben accepted the fight and went on to submit Akiyama in a “Fight of the Night” performance.
While the win over Akiyama was a major feather in his cap, Leben recalled his knockout victory over his hero Wanderlei Silva at UFC 132 as the best moment of his career:
Wanderlei has always been my hero, said Leben. When I started fighting, I used to walk two miles down to the store where I could buy these bootleg Pride videos and watch Wanderlei fight and watching him is really what got my into the sport. So that win over Wanderlei, probably for me, that was the icing on the cake.
For Leben, the decision to retire was more of a realization of the evolution of MMA. The current generation of fighters are world class athletes skilled in all aspects of fighting. Long gone are the days when you could make a run in the UFC just on being a tough guy:
I've had a wonderful career, said Leben. And again, I didn't start fighting until I was 21 years old. Back then you could actually get in the UFC, win and do well, just on being a tough guy. I was a tough guy, I had some techniques and stuff, and that always worked for me. But when you look at these guys now, like Uriah Hall, they're just a different breed of athlete than I am. The game has been evolving and changing so much, so rapidly, that I'm actually pretty happy that I can say I was in it for as long as I was in it.
Leben may be retiring from MMA competition, but he has no plans of leaving the sport entirely. He plans on sticking around as a coach at Alliance MMA and helping guide the careers of other young fighters.
Nothing in this world hits as hard as life, and Leben has certainly dealt with his fair share of troubles over the course of his 12-year career.
But in the face of overwhelming odds, he can finally ride off into the sunset with a bright smile across his face, knowing he left behind a legacy that will be remembered for years to come.