By Elton "Hobbie" Hobson
That’s how long it took Chris Leben to pull off one of the most dramatic career turnarounds in recent memory. Two weeks prior to UFC 116, Leben was seen as a perennial gatekeeper, 1-2 in his last 3 fights with a recent suspension due to a failed drug test. Alongside his shaky history of alcoholism, lack of complete commitment in training, and inconsistency against the division’s best, no one would have pegged him as the dark horse middleweight of 2010.
No one but Leben, that is. It started at the TUF 11 finale, where Leben overcame a stern first round challenge from undefeated Aaron Simpson before putting him away in the second round. Then, Wanderlei Silva fell out of his UFC 116 co-main event with Yoshihiro Akiyama, and the UFC needed a hero. Wanting to be a company man like Rich Franklin, Forrest Griffin, and the others the UFC can count on to step up (and who get taken care of because of it), Leben volunteered.
What resulted was UFC 116’s Fight of the Night, a victory via Triangle Choke for Leben over the decorated Judo champion. It is astonishing progress for the man once best known for urinating on Jason Thacker’s bed in the first season of TUF. Welcome back to the top 10 Chris - just try not to run into Anderson Silva anytime soon.
Amid all the praise and fan adulation being heaped on Leben, the “Crippler” did manage to earn a heckle or two from the Vegas crowd as well. The reason? Chris Leben wants to return to the reality TV show that made him famous - this time, as a coach opposite Wanderlei Silva.
There’s a certain logic to that request. Leben did step in and take Wanderlei’s fight for him, and win. Now that he’s beaten “Sexyama” (and in a fight every bit as exciting as Wand vs. Sexy would have been), I feel he’s earned a crack at one of the sport’s elite.
In an interview with Versus.com, Leben elaborated on his challenge to the “Axe Murderer”:
"[Coaching TUF] would absolutely be huge for me. I mean, I am a coach, that's what I do. I have my own gym with a whole group of guys that I train. I'd love the opportunity to get on TV and really showcase my skills and let the world see. I've changed quite a bit from the first season from that cocky, punk kid. I'm a mixed martial artists and I'm a fantastic coach. Besides that opportunity, Wanderlei Silva is my favorite fighter. By coming up and watching him and watching the wars that he's fought, I absolutely love the guy and I'd like to think I somewhat model my fighting style after his. Who doesn't want to go out and take out their hero?"
Call me crazy, but I think these guys would make a great fit for coaches on Spike’s reality TV cash cow.
What makes a good season of TUF is the personalities, especially those of the coaches, and Wanderlei Silva is made for a season of reality television. Sure, he has a bit of the ESL thing going on, but his English is more then serviceable with the help of a few subtitles. Hey, if they can do a season with Nogueria, Wanderlei should be no problem.
Wanderlei is one of the most beloved fighters in all of the sport, and there’s really no way he could come off badly from this. Fans across North America not fully up to speed on the PRIDE legend would get a proper introduction to the friendly and eccentric personality of “The Axe Murderer.”
Speaking of eccentric personalities, Chris Leben set the original standard for Ultimate Fighter douchebaggery with his bed wetting, door breaking, man-tantruming antics on TUF’s inaugural season. Since then, the Team Quest product has had his ups and downs, but he finally seems to have exorcised his demons and fully matured as a fighter. His interviews, once obnoxious and shallow, are now thoughtful and insightful. He shows intelligence in his style now, and the ability to implement a game plan.
Coaching TUF would be the ultimate homecoming for Leben, and the UFC could use the show to feature him as the changed man and matured fighter that he has seemingly become. This season would be about the crazy personalities of the coaches, and building up two people the fans like, cheer for, and most importantly expect an all-out brawl from.
And an all-out brawl is exactly what they‘ll get. Whether or not they get the TUF coaching gig or not, the UFC should book Silva vs. Leben at the earliest possible opportunity. If styles make fights, then Leben’s go for broke, brawling style and Wanderlei’s non-stop Muay Thai ferocity is the recipe for an all time classic. There are very few certainties in Mixed Martial Arts, but that fight winning an “… of the Night” award is one of them.