Exclusive Chris Leben Interview: UFC Fans, Chael Sonnen and Why He Wants to Fight Rich Franklin

You'll have to forgive Chris Leben if he's happy to be sitting this one out. After fighting twice in a two week period (wins over Aaron Simpson and Yoshihiro Akiyama), "The Crippler" took a month off to let his body heal. Instead of stepping into the Octagon tomorrow, he'll be at Jerry Remy's Sports Bar and Grill in Boston, signing autographs and enjoying a great night of fights on two huge big screen T.V.'s. Bloody Elbow's Jonathan Snowden was able to catch up with Leben to talk about the fans, his outlook on life, why he wants to beat the crap out of Rich Franklin, and the method to former teammate Chael Sonnen's madness.

Jonathan Snowden: How are you man? You fought a couple of times in a couple of weeks. How does your body feel after all of that?

Chris Leben: I took about a month off, so I just got back to hard training again. We had two fights in two weeks and you know how it goes. When you train for a fight you train to peak. You kind of push your body as far as you can take it. So, it definitely was taxing. But I pulled through, the end result was good, so things are good. The only bummer is I have to start to train again. (Laughs).

Jonathan Snowden: That's the thing when I talk to fighters-they all say the training is worse than the fights. Explain a little about what goes on in the eight weeks before a fight.

Chris Leben: At about eight weeks out I start training at least twice a day. Conditioning in the morning, then I'm doing my technique and sparring in the evening. There are about six hours a day that I'm in the gym working on my skills, working on my gameplan, working on my conditioning and doing what I need to do to get in shape. The way I like to do it is take a month just to get in shape for my two month camp. By the last month of the camp my diet is just totally nailed, I'm not hanging out with my friends, I'm not answering my cell phone. I'm just locked in the gym. Training away. That's what my life is.

-- photo via ufc.com

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Jonathan Snowden: Coincidentally, I was just talking with Scott McKendry at Team Quest. And I was wondering your thoughts about the crew there and especially Robert Follis. It seems to me that Robert is one of the unheralded trainers in the game. What was your experience with him and Team Quest like?

Chris Leben: I don't know how people wouldn't know about Robert Follis. He's only one of the best coaches that have ever been around. He's a father figure for me. He coached me through my first 20 fights and he truly inspired me both inside and out of the ring. I still talk to Robert now on a regular basis. He's a great friend and an awesome person. One of the cool things about that guy-he has that ability to coach you both on and off the mat. He really helps guys turn their lives around. He's one of those people that really lightens up a room. And that's no bullshit.

Jonathan Snowden: He's had some real challenges too. He's coached some interesting characters, your self included. One of the guys that overlapped with you was the late Evan Tanner. What's your best Evan Tanner story?

Chris Leben: (Laughs). Believe it or not, Evan Tanner was very mild mannered, really nice guy. I think his biggest issue was he was just too smart for his own good. He had a tendency to over think things. Every once in awhile he would go into this dark place and he would disappear for awhile when he was drinking real heavy. I never really saw too much of that. The Evan Tanner I knew was at the gym, he was helping people, he was training hard, and he was a positive guy yo be around.

Jonathan Snowden: You talked about Evan and his dark places. And I know you've been there yourself and it ended with you moving to Hawaii. How has that changed you as a person? What is it about Hawaii that attracts you to it?

Chris Leben: The thing about Hawaii is the pace of life, it's the culture, it's the people. A lot of fighters, they go pro, they get good, and they think that they need to move to Vegas. They're in the limelight, they're being seen, they're seeing famous people-to me that's all hype. That's all bullshit. The only thing that really matters is putting time in the gym. For me moving to Hawaii was more about finding my personal space. I got my house out in the country, away from everybody, and I've got my gym. I go in to train, I come home, I stay out of the bar, stay out of the club.  Or at least do my best to do that. And it keeps me winning.

Jonathan Snowden: You've got a unique style of fighting, but recently a guy has emerged in the WEC, the Korean Zombie, who is doing your thing. Have you had a chance to see his fight with Leonard Garcia?

Chris Leben: I tell you what's really funny. My tattooist-he was never a fan of the sport. I came in to get a tattoo after my last fight and he's wearing a Korean Zombie t-shirt. That's his new favorite fighter. Pretty funny I thought. Unfortunately between running my gym, training myself, and having as much fun as possible, I don't get a chance to watch all the fights. So I haven't had a chance to watch him, but I have heard some good things about him.

Jonathan Snowden: You fought, famously, twice in two weeks. So now when guys drop out of fights, and they always do, your name gets mentioned. I know you wanted to fight Wanderlei Silva, but you'd have to wait for that one. Anyone else you have an eye on?

Chris Leben: Joe (Silva) told me one more fight and then I could fight Wanderlei Silva. Wanderlei is hurt right now. They want me to fight in November. They threw some names out at me that I wasn't very excited with. As a fighter, they don't help me grow. I think at this stage of the game, if I had somebody I wanted to call out right now, it would probably be Rich Franklin. I'd like to get in there and mix it up with Rich.

Jonathan Snowden: Wow. Great fight and a high profile fight for you. Is that what makes Franklin an attractive fight?

Chris Leben: (Laughs). Kind of funny, but my old coach who let me go for reasons that were my fault, apparently my lifestyle was a little bit too much for him-Rich is now his top student. So, basically, spite I would say.

Jonathan Snowden: (Laughs). Matt Hume huh?

Chris Leben: I am talking about Matt Hume, yeah.

Jonathan Snowden: Tell me about Matt. Someone once told me that Matt Hume would argue with you about whether the sky was blue.

Chris Leben: Matt is Matt. I love him to death. He's a great guy. He really is. But he's a hard ass. If you're going to train with Matt Hume, you're going to train Matt Hume's way. That's all there is to it. I love him and I loved training with him and I think he helped me develop my skills. He helped me take my game to another level. It's just we ended up having to part ways. Now Rich Franklin is his top guy-and I want to fuck him up.

Jonathan Snowden: You're one of the guys who helped take the UFC to the next level of popularity. Now you're doing this event this weekend at Jerry Remy's in Boston. What 's it like to interact with the fans? What do you think about how big this whole thing has gotten?

Chris Leben: That's one of the coolest things about our sport. Fans can still meet the fighters, they can greet the fighters, they can hang out with them. We're right there. In other sports it's not like that. I don't want to say I'm famous, but it's pretty cool when people walk up and say 'Hey Chris, you're my favorite fighter.' I love it, because it makes their day. That's just so cool.

Jonathan Snowden: One of the guys in the main event is someone you know well, Chael Sonnen. What have you thought about the way Chael has promoted this fight? Pretty crazy stuff.

Chris Leben: Here's the bottom line-we're entertainers. Yes we're athletes. But our sport isn't really like basketball or football where the athletes don't really have a face. We're kind of a mix between WWE and boxing. I think Chael's done exactly what he's needed to do-put asses in seats. Whether you want to see him win or you want to see him get crushed, he's made you care.

Jonathan Snowden: You've fought Anderson Silva. He made his name off of you in the UFC. And. of course, you've trained with Chael. How do you see this happening?

Chris Leben: Anderson Silva is Anderson Silva. And God knows we all know what he's done the last five years. But I'll tell you what: Chael is an absolute monster. I've never gone against anybody tougher in the gym. He has by far the best takedowns I've ever seen in my life.

Jonathan Snowden:  You've been in with Couture, Henderson, and Lindland. That's a bold statement coming from you.

Chris Leben: It is. It is. But Chael's a fucking monster.

Chris Leben would like to thank TapOut for making his signature shirt, Muscle Pharm, and if anyone is ever in Honolulu, Hawaii, check out his school the Ultimate Fight School.

 

WHEN:           Saturday, August 7th, 2010

                        9:00 PM to 12:00 AM

                        Autograph and Photo Session 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM

                        UFC 117 Live Pay-Per-View starts at 10:00 PM

WHERE:         Jerry Remy's Sports Bar & Grill

                        1265 Boylston Street

                        Boston, MA 02215

COST:             $30 per person

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