Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa LLC
Chris Leben admits that he's been stronger and faster in the past, but he's never been more ready -- and clear-headed --than he is now to return at UFC 155 against Derek Brunson after a year-long suspension triggered (once again) by substance abuse issues.
"You really don't know what you have until it's taken away. This was truly a blessing in disguise. I had that invaluable time I needed for my personal life. I do miss competing. I miss getting in there. I miss training for a fight and missed the paydays as well. I have a different mindset. I'm much more clearheaded. But with that comes different issues. There's more anxiety, more nerves, questions on how I'm going to perform. I'm trying to make that a positive thing, to push myself harder, to be more ready.... All I can say is everything I've done has a purpose," he said. "I volunteered to go to jails in Hawaii (Leben lives on he island of Oahu). I go every Tuesday.... My hope is with all this stuff I've been through, that God has a plan for me. I've grown in the last year from it and become a different person, a person who can benefit society and people around him in a positive way.... I've been in better condition, with more strength and a higher vertical leap. Being sober helps. You don't have to fight those toxins. Drinking a half bottle of booze a night doesn't help you as an athlete. I'm more ready, by far, then I've ever been. I'm in the best shape I've ever been. My heart rate walking around is in the mid-40s. I'm ready to go. I've done everything I can to insure a victory. The fight changing, having a year off, I can't do anything about those things."
-- Star-crossed Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight staple, Chris Leben, is still broke, which should come as no surprise since he is still waiting to get paid. "The Crippler," however, can now see the light at the end of a year-long suspension tunnel as he winds down the days until his Octagon return at UFC 155 this weekend (Dec. 29, 2012). It almost didn't happen, though, because his original opponent, Karlos Vemola, was forced off the New Year's Eve weekend pay-per-view (PPV) event with an injury. The good news is that Strikeforce veteran, Derek Brunson, was more than willing to accept a short notice fight. According to a recent interview with MMAFighting.com, little things like eleventh-hour opponent switches aren't about to bother Leben at this advanced stage of his life because he's got bigger fish to fry like his health, bills and over all well-being. Indeed, Leben is just happy to be clean and sober and on the verge of getting back to doing what he, professionally, does best, which is eating two -- maybe even 10 -- punches to land one decisive blow. His appearance this weekend will be No. 20 inside the Octagon and, apparently, the "jitters" will be an issue this time around despite his previous experience. Responsibilities and sobriety will do that to a 32-year-old man, who maybe only has three or four years at most before the sport passes him by ... if it hasn't already.