[EXCLUSIVE] Leben to Fight Vemola at UFC 155
STUDIO MMA, North Hollywood, CA — For most fighters, a return to the UFC usually means making adjustments to their stand up game or taking time to properly hone and improve their their jiu jitsu or grappling skills.
But Chris Leben isn’t just any fighter.
Leben, who once gained notoriety on “The Ultimate Fighter” as a unpredictable livewire, returns to the UFC in December not only turning over a new leaf as a fighter, but with a renewed focus to fight stronger and smarter both in and outside of the Octagon.
On December 29th, “The Crippler” returns from a one-year suspension to take on Czech fighter Karlos Vemola. And while he may have respect for Vemola’s aggressive style and strength, an eager Leben is quick to point out he is confident he can win this fight and use it to make a statement in the UFC.
“He looks like a tough guy, he’s coming down a weight class, but he’s gotta win this one. And at the same time, I’m making a comeback and I need to win in decisive fashion. It’s definitely going to be an exciting fight.”
However, Leben suggests that in a fight with two people known for their aggressive styles and unrelenting will, the deciding factor will likely come down to the amount of hours logged in the Octagon.
“I really think it’ll come down to experience. I’ve had a number of fights go the distance. And weather it’s standing or on the ground, it really doesn’t matter to me, I’ll be fine wherever the fight takes us—and take those calculated risks to make it the best fight that I possibly can.”
But what does “putting on a good show” mean specifically for Chris Leben?
“Fighting to win, not fighting to not lose. Making it good and exciting—and looking for a way to finish the fight.”
Entering into his training camp for this fight, Leben says he’s already made significant improvements on his cardio, strength and conditioning, as well as a stronger leading jab. But perhaps the biggest improvement in Leben’s game, however, may come from a renewed mental and philosophical focus on himself.
For much of Leben’s storied career, headlines about his personal life have appeared almost as often as ones about his rounds in the Octagon. Now, nine years later, the former “Ultimate Fighter” vet says that his wild and erratic days documented on the popular reality show were “part of the growing process” and are firmly behind him.
“Well, I was 23 years old back then and I’m 32 now. It’s been a long growing up process. I felt like I was my own worst enemy back then. And now, although I continue to struggle and change, I’ve redefined how I view myself and the kind of person I want other people to look at me as.”
Which may help to explain Leben’s recent extra-circular activities during his UFC absence: In addition to his five-day-a-week coaching schedule, Leben has expanded his passion for Mixed Martial Arts from coaching at gyms to also teaching at correctional facilities throughout Hawaii.
“There’s something about that coach-student relationship, especially in MMA, that they look at in a different dimension than parents or authorities in their life. They seem to give me a little more respect. I talk about my own mistakes and I think they listen a little more.”
And, on December 29th, Leben hopes that a paralleled evolution of both his MMA and his personal life will cultivate in his hand getting raised inside the Octagon.
“I want them to see the triumphant return of Chris Leben. I’m hoping that my return back is a highlight if not a pinnacle in my career. I want to leave a message for anyone that challenges me.”