Chris Leben was never good enough, or disciplined enough, to win the UFC world championship. He battled plenty of demons, from drugs and alcohol abuse to other personal issues. He wasn't the most technically correct fighter.
What the veteran of Season 1 of "The Ultimate Fighter," regularly did, though, was put his heart and soul into every fight he ever had. He would bring the fans out of their feet with a powerful punch or a thunderous kick that quickly drew the fans out of their seats, giddy with delight.
He was the epitome of the guy who tried to put on a show.
Leben announced his retirement as an active mixed martial arts fighter Monday on Ariel Helwani's MMA Hour. His 12-10 record is fairly indicative of the type of talent that he had.
He was a win-some, lose-some kind of a guy.
But Leben will be remembered as one of the most significant figures of the UFC's first 20 years because of his total commitment to put on a show.
Leben recognized that the sport is entertainment, and he strove to entertain whenever he entered the cage. He might not have been good enough to knock you out – he couldn't get within a foot of hitting future UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva when they fought in 2006 but, until he was stopped himself, Leben put every ounce of effort into trying to take Silva out.
The style of fights in the UFC is largely a reflection of UFC president Dana White's preference. Long before he got into the UFC, White, a life-long boxing fan, fell in love with the late boxer Arturo Gatti's brawling style.
When he purchased the UFC along with brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta in 2001, he sought out fighters who had the Gatti mentality and would go for broke at all costs.
That philosophy, along with even matchmaking, allowed mid-tier talents to become stars, which is a vast difference from boxing.
The biggest stars in boxing are almost always the most physically gifted. The most significant boxing stars of the last 25 years were Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. All of them happened to rank at or near the top of the sport in terms of talent level.
In MMA, the star power of Leben, fellow TUF 1 castmate Stephan Bonnar and many others far outshone their physical talents. There are dozens more fighters like that in the UFC now.
They provided entertaining fights filled with back-and-forth action. Fans weren't turned off because they weren't seeing the best of the best; rather, they were tuned in because they more often than not got to see a slugfest which would end dramatically.
On his way out, having lost four in a row and five of his last six, Leben also sets the right example. He was taking far too many punches to the head. Anyone who has been around the fight game for any length of time knows that fighters who regularly take that kind of head trauma wind up with serious brain issues down the road.
"I'm 33 years old now, which isn't the oldest for a fighter," Leben told Helwani. "But like I tell people, it's not how old you are, but it's how long you've been doing it. And I've been doing this game for quite a while.
"I've got a lot of years ahead of me. I would like to still have my head on my shoulders and have a brain when I'm raising kids and doing all the other stuff that I want to be part of. I think it might just be time for me to gracefully bow out."
For that attitude, he goes out on top. During his career, he did nothing but his level best every time to pull fans from their feet by giving them a dramatic knockout or a slick submission finish.
As he walks away, he sets another example for his peers in knowing when to call it quits.
He was barely over .500 in his UFC career, but Chris Leben is a decisive winner in my book.
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