LAS VEGAS - JULY 03: (R-L) Chris Leben kicks Yoshihiro Akiyama of Japan during the UFC middleweight bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 3 2010 in Las Vegas Nevada. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Chris Leben has had his ups and downs since he first waltzed into our lives during the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).
Two pairs of back-to-back losses, getting busted for steroids across the pond and a DUI arrest highlight the lows. The highs consist of a five-fight win streak, highlight reel knockouts and two incredible come from behind victories. This edition is about those two wins, arguably the most dramatic of his career.
Coming off three losses in four fights, he found himself on the business end of a beatdown, courtesy of Terry Martin. But Leben weathered the storm and scored a knockout late in the third round.
The second bout was one he took only 14 days after he had already competed. Yoshihiro Akiyama was in need of an opponent and "The Crippler" was happy to oblige him. Yet again, he won the bout in exhilarating, last-minute fashion.
But first, we'll take a closer look at the Octagon career of Leben and in particular, his bouts with Martin and Akiyama.
Let's dive in.
The first is always the best ... at least it was with TUF.
Sure, the lightweights of season five might match the inaugural cast in terms of talent but when you mixed in the drama that reality TV needs to thrive, the likes of Josh Koscheck, Diego Sanchez, and, of course, Leben, it cannot be matched.
No fighter on that set made more of a star for himself than "The Crippler."
A walking cliché, he was a tough kid from the wrong side of the tracks with a bit of a drinking problem. He was as tough as he was emotionally vulnerable, so when Bobby Southworth called him a "fatherless bastard," you felt bad for the poor kid. And when he removed himself from the possibly volatile situation in a surprising act of maturity, you fumed when Southworth and Koscheck poured water on him as he slept.
He endeared himself to millions and became an instant fan favorite. It also didn't hurt that his slug-it-out fighting style made for some exciting and fun brawls.
But after the cameras were turned off, it became apparent that he could only ride his sudden stardom for so long. If Leben wanted to stay employed by the UFC, he was going to have to win.
And that he did. Starting with the TUF Finale, he rattled off five straight wins, three of those in the first round.
It seemed he was within reach of a title shot. But fate intervened when the promotion signed Anderson Silva and pitted the two against one another.
"The Crippler" famously said he "would send [Silva] back to Japan" and the Brazilian almost literally made him eat those words.
While "The Spider's" 49-second shellacking was thrilling for fans, Leben saw his championship hopes crash in half the time it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn.
No one -- except possibly Forrest Griffin -- knows what Leben was feeling after that embarrassing loss to Silva. Whatever those emotions were, he harnessed them and channeled them into pure aggression with Jorge Santiago being the unfortunate target when "The Crippler" released them inside the cage.
After a close first round, Leben put "The Sandman" to sleep 35 seconds into the second. But it was the last time that he would taste victory in over a year.
Finally making the jump to pay-per-view (PPV) after an exclusive run on "Fight Night" cards would make any UFC fighter happy. And, almost certainly, Leben was. But losing two consecutive fights in front of such a large audience -- UFC 66 and 71, two Chuck Liddell-headlined PPVs -- wasn't what "The Crippler" had in mind.
He was relegated back down to "Fight Night" cards after his losses to Jason MacDonald and the reviled Kalib Starnes. At UFC Fight Night 11: "Thomas vs. Florian," he was paired off against fellow heavy hitter Terry Martin.
"The Crippler" utilized a smart game plan early but a point deduction for grabbing the fence likely put him behind on the scorecards.
A somewhat non-eventful second round led to the final and deciding round for the middleweight. Martin immediately shoved Leben against the cage and began throwing combinations at the reality star.
"Dangerous" landed a huge right but Leben answered back with a left of his own. Lefts and rights connected from both fighters as the toll of over 10 minutes of fighting began to become painfully obvious.
Almost in slow motion, Martin caught a kick and dropped Leben to his back. A minute passed, filled with both fighters landing punches on the ground, and finally "The Crippler" was able to shove Martin off and the two exhausted fighters returned to their feet.
Martin clocked Leben with two left hooks and then a nice 1-2-3 combination before reversing a takedown. Leben was losing this fight, second by second and punch by punch.
They got back to their feet and "Dangerous" landed a stiff left jab followed by a haymaker right that staggered "The Crippler" back. Another right hook and then two giant lefts found their mark across Leben's skull.
Just as it looked like the fight was over for the former Team Quest fighter, he swung around with a looping left hook that smashed its way to Martin's jaw, dropping the fighter will a ton of bricks.
Goodnight, sweet prince.
Leben followed that win up with a knockout over former pro boxer Alessio Sakara but once again ended up dropping two fights in a row. Worse yet, after his fight with Michael Bisping -- Leben's first PPV headlining fight --, "The Crippler" test positive for steroids.
Going into 2010, Leben's New Year's resolution must have been to stop losing because 11 days into January, he scored a unanimous decision win over Jay Silva. Five months later, he defeated Aaron Simpson by technical knockout (TKO).
But a problem arose with UFC 116: "Lesnar vs. Carwin." Yoshihiro Akiyama, originally slated to face Wanderlei Silva, was left without an opponent after a training camp injury sidelined the Brazilian.
Days after his second 2010 win, "The Crippler" agreed to face the Japanese judoka. He stepped back inside the Octagon on only two weeks rest.
Akiyama controlled the first round with his judo as he was able to get Leben on the mat several time throughout. The second round was more "The Crippler's" style as he was able to bait "Sexyama" into a slugfest.
Both fighters landed well and both fighters were hurt. But after 10 minutes -- despite fatigue playing a factor for each fighter -- Leben was once again behind on the scorecards.
Sporting a nasty mouse under his right eye, Leben smiled as he entered into the final round. He landed a good body kick before connecting with a head kick that didn't even phase the judoka.
Another kick was caught by Akiyama and he drove the American to the mat. "The Crippler" teases with an armbar and nearly got his opponent to tap before the Japanese warrior was able to wiggle his arm free.
Once again on top of Leben, "Sexyama" began to jockey for position and even momentarily gained full mount. Leben, no slouch on the ground either, forced his opponent back to guard.
Each fighter was throwing short punches while on the ground, scoring points however possible. "The Crippler" began swinging his elbows from side to side as Akiyama postured up to land more damaging punches.
With less than a minute left in the bout, Leben -- only 14 days removed from his last fight and more than 14 minutes into this grueling war -- threw his legs up and slapped on a loose triangle choke.
The leg pressing down across the back of "Sexyama's" head was slightly out of position but as the Japanese fighter fell to his side, Leben was able to pull it down, locking the submission up tight while tugging down on his opponent's head.
With only 20 seconds remaining, Akiyama is forced to tap or risk losing consciousness. And just like that, Chris "The Crippler" Leben had won his second fight in as many weeks.
Wanderlei Silva would be wise to recognize that when fighting Leben, it's not over until time expires, someone submits, or someone goes to sleep.
If "The Axe Murderer" finds himself ahead on the scorecards going into the final round, a choice to coast to a decision might cost him the fight.
Just ask Martin or Akiyama.