UFC middleweight Chris Leben has been in some big bouts before. He welcomed Anderson Silva to the Octagon, put on a Fight of the Year candidate against Yoshihiro Akiyama in 2010, and knocked out Wanderlei Silva in 27 seconds a year later. However, it’s the bout he has in front of him this weekend at UFC 155 that has him smiling from ear to ear even though it’s against an opponent many mainstream fans have never heard of, Derek Brunson.
The reason for Leben’s overwhelming joy in the face of a fight with less hype than he’s experienced in the past has to do with his sobriety after a longtime battle with substance abuse. Leben’s problems most recently reared their head in November 2011 when he was suspended for painkiller use after a match-up with Mark Munoz, sitting on the sidelines ever since. Now, with a chance to start over in the UFC, Leben couldn’t be more anxious about finally seeing action this Saturday night…
“I think I’m more excited for this than any other fight in my life. It’s been a long road. For me, it really hasn’t been a year off; it’s been a year really dealing with other things, but to finally be able to get back to work – get back to what I do – and now to be doing it in such a different mind frame, it’s exciting.”
“Honestly, I would say (I feel) so good that it’s really scary. I mean, I’ve got some really great coaches. I’ve got the best set of coaches and training partners I’ve ever had around me. Obviously with my head being clearer, I didn’t realize how much a lot of the things I was doing were affecting me. Now when I go out and train – last Saturday is a perfect example: I had four guys that are 220, top-level guys, college wrestlers, and I crushed every one of them. All of them were gassed by the time I was tired. I know that’s a performance that I never would have had this far out from the fight.”
“The old Chris Leben would never been where I’m at right now – not even close. The edge is there. That sharpness is there, and at this level, having that edge and that sharpness – yeah, I might be a year older, but I feel quicker, I feel sharper, stronger, and younger than I ever have.”
PHOTO CREDIT: UFC