By Cindy Ortiz
In light of all the controversy surrounding a UFC: 56 after party in Las Vegas at club Pure, I touched base with Chris Leben this afternoon to find out what the “Cat-Smasher’s” version of the evenings events were.
We also discussed the idea of a rematch between Chris Leben and Josh Koscheck after some recent “less-than-respectful” comments hit the online MMA community originating from Koscheck’s camp and Leben had plenty to say about “The Blanket!”
Cindy: What happened between you and Baroni during the after party?
Chris: You know, I’m hearing things about that but I’m not too sure what people are talking about.
Cindy: The story goes something like Phil confronted you about wanting to fight and you sorta “bowed out gracefully” from the confrontation. The exchange got heated and somehow he ended up slapping Loretta Hunt, a writer for Full Contact Fighter, which led to BJ Penn getting involved in the fiasco but spectators kept him and Baroni apart. Does any of this sound familiar?
Chris: Not really, Cindy! Either I was too drunk to notice or it never happened… and I wasn’t drunk (laughter)! I didn’t see anyone get slapped and I don’t recall BJ Penn and Phil Baroni almost going at it. My version of what happened is that Phil said something to me about fighting and I told him I thought it would be a great match up.
Cindy: Now, you and Baroni were rumored to have been possibly fighting recently but you turned it down due to the lack of training time. Do you think this mishap was a result of you not taking the fight?
Chris: First of all, I never turned down the fight with Baroni. What happened is Dana White called me about fighting Phil. I told him I’d fight him and thought it would be a good one, but we were looking at only three weeks out from my last fight. I would have liked to have had more time to prepare but I would fight him anyway. Dana said he’d call me back but he never did. Then I started hearing about how I turned the fight with Baroni down and that’s not what happened. I never turned that fight down… I would have fought him. I’ll fight anyone the UFC puts in front of me and I can promise you, Cindy, I ain’t afraid of no man (laughter)!
Cindy: Oh, I don’t doubt that for a minute. It sounds like people simply drew the wrong conclusion about the fight not going down as rumored. Back to the “night in question,” did you see Phil slap anyone?
Chris: No. I think people are just saying what they want to say. I was there and, like I said, I didn’t see anyone get slapped.
Cindy: But the person “saying” this happened is Phil.
Chris: Are you shitting me?
Cindy: No. In fact, Baroni insisted on “going on record” in an interview with Inside Fighting to proclaim he did in fact slap Loretta Hunt. Was Loretta present when you and Phil “had your chat?”
Chris: I didn’t see her. I mean if she was around, she wasn’t trying to interview me or anything so I could have maybe overlooked her. All I know is I’ll fight Phil Baroni any time and if the fans want to see this fight, the UFC should really try to put it together and maybe they will.
Cindy: Do you know who you are fighting in January yet?
Chris: No, I haven’t been told yet but I’m hoping it’s Phil Baroni, you know? I mean, let’s do this thing because I don’t see Baroni as being a real threat, but I think he would be a good opponent for me.
Cindy: It would definitely be a great fight. So how’s life in Washington State? I know you moved there to be closer to June and you’re doing some personal training. How goes it?
Chris: It’s great, I mean I didn’t just up and walk out on Team Quest. All those guys are still my good friends but I needed a change, you know? I’m happier in the sense that I actually get to see my girlfriend and that’s a good thing and I’m training with Matt Hume and he’s an amazing fighter and trainer. It’s good to change up who you train with and the people at AMC have been great to work out with.
Things are more disciplined here. He’s got me on a tight schedule and a pretty good routine. I’m training about four hours a day. I wake up in the mornings, go to work and then train in the evenings. I’m working a lot on my cardio and eating right, too, so things are good.
Cindy: When you fight from this point forward, which camp will you represent; Team Quest or AMC?
Chris: Both… both. I’ll have Matt Hume from AMC in my corner and Robert Follis from Team Quest. All the Team Quest guys are still my friends, especially Nate, so there’s no hard feelings there at all.
Cindy: Did you stop drinking completely or adapt a “consumption in moderation” attitude?
Chris: Um… I definitely cut back a lot compared to how much I used to drink, so that’s good too.
Cindy: OK. I told Koscheck I was interviewing you today and he asked me to pass along a message to you.
Chris: Oh really?
Cindy: Yep! I have interviewed Koscheck a couple of times and he still has a “bad taste” in his mouth for you. When asked if he wanted to fight you again, he responded:
“I think Leben wants to fight me more than I want to fight him because I won last time! Yeah, I’d definitely jump at the chance to fight Leben again because we do NOT like each other, we just don’t get along and I think it would be worse for him in a rematch because my skills on the ground and standing up have greatly improved since the last time I beat him! What the hell, I’d throw down with Leben again and I’d kick his ass again.”
Koscheck also said: “Chris still likes to talk smack about me when he’s in the public’s eye but he doesn’t do that when there’s no camera around and he’s around me. I feel sorry for him; he’s just a young kid who has a lot of growing up to do still, so…..whatever! Be sure to ask him why he’s only been fighting pussies since TUF 1!”
What are your thoughts about Koscheck these days and what is your response to his comments?
Chris: Well, first of all, I don’t think I’ve only fought pussies since the show. It’s not like Drew Fickett is at the top of the food chain, you know? Koscheck shot in there going for another predictable double and Drew was waiting for him (laughter) with a big knee!
Cindy: You don’t think Josh had that fight in the bag until Drew got lucky with the knee?
Chris: Hell no! Koscheck did the same he always does. He was predictable, you know? Drew saw it and took advantage of the opportunity. That’s not luck in my book. Koscheck’s a decent wrestler but his ground game sucks as bad as his stand up. Even though our fight doesn’t count in the record books, I still want to fight him again so I can kick his ass decisively.
Cindy: Other than “you’ll kick his ass,” what do you think would be different the second time around?
Chris: I’d knock his ass out in the first round without a doubt. He would never be able to pull his “lay and pray” because he’d never get me on my back like that again. In my opinion, Koscheck won the fight but he didn’t beat me. That same scenario would never play out the same way a second time.
I have a few questions and comments from your fans on The Ultimate Fighter forum.
From Team Quest Fan: Chris is the man! I have been a fan since TUF 1 and will continue to be until he retires. Keep going Chris; you look better with every fight and I can’t wait until your next one. Question: Would you ever fight Nate?
Chris: Thanks for the support Team Quest Fan. No, I would never fight Nate. To me, Nate is like a mentor and he has done a lot to help me and we’re good friends. Nate is like a brother to me and if we ever fought, things would never be the same between us. There’s nothing to prove between me and Nate so no, I’d never fight him.
From Little Kang: If you ever have a rematch with Swick, would the outcome be different and if so, how?
Chris: Cool name, Kang. Um… I want to fight Swick again and I see it ending via round one submission and another tough break for Mike.
Cindy: How and what round?
Chris: Oh, I’d submit him in the first round with an armbar probably.
Forum moderator, Brewster wants you to know: The poll has been taken and you need to change his name “officially” to the Catsmasher! He loves that nickname so much better than the Crippler!
Chris: (laughter) My fans can call me whatever they want to; Catsmasher or Crippler, I don’t really mind which.
JonB wants to know: On the TUF show you said that if you lost the show, you would come back in the UFC and beat whoever won the contract… So when are you gonna smash Diego?!
Chris: Diego isn’t in my weight division. He gained weight for the show and I’m a true middle-weight and there’s no way I can cut down to 170. If Diego steps up to a middleweight, I’d like to fight him, for sure.
From forum member Zach: What did you think about Nate getting a title shot?
Chris: I think that’s what the UFC does, you know? They give fighters opportunities to prove themselves. I think Nate was ready. He finished three opponents in a decisive fashion, all in round one, and earned a title shot. It didn’t turn out in his favor, but you know, that’s how it goes sometimes. He’ll be back.
From Jordan: Would you rather knock out or summit Koscheck?
Chris: Jordan, I prefer knocking him out.
Forum member bsumoose wants to know: Since you have a great stand up game…have you almost abandoned that in practice to learn BJJ…and are you learning any thing else?
Chris: Moose, no… my stand up isn’t taking a rest. I still work stand up just as much as I concentrate on my ground skills. The biggest advantage of moving to another camp is getting to train with other great fighters and that’s what I have here at AMC. These guys challenge me every day and I have picked up a lot of new stuff.
Lancer has a few questions for you:
How would you rate yourself in your weight division?
Chris: Let’s see… I think I’m definitely a top-ten guy.
Do you feel ready for a title fight?
Chris: I think I should have to fight the guys in the top-ten and earn a title shot. Until I do that and prove I am the number one contender for a title fight, I’m not going to feel like I earned it. If the opportunity presents itself before then, I’m not going to turn it down!
What aspect of your game have you improved the most since TUF?
Chris: Working from my back and getting off of my back if I end up there.
From craigdcan: Was Patrick Cote the hardest punch you’ve ever felt? If not, then who?
Chris: I think he might have been, Craig. He hits hard! I’ve been hit pretty hard in the past, too.
Friendly Stranger has a few for you:
Do you ever plan on going back to Oregon to train with team quest in the future?
Chris: You never know. Like I said, I love all those guys and consider them to be good friends of mine. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for any of them. I’m sure we’ll eventually end up training together again in the future.
When do you plan on retiring from MMA?
Forum member Chocell has a few:
Are he and Koscheck still feuding?
Chris: I guess so if Koscheck is saying I talk shit about him behind his back and when a camera is nearby but he isn’t! I can’t wait to be standing across the octagon from him one day soon (I hope) because he talks a good game but can’t back it up. Like I said, he won on the show, but he didn’t beat me. Koscheck can’t beat me and I think he knows that. He just likes to talk a lot of shit and then smile when he sees me.
Besides Nate Quarry, are there others competitors you won’t fight?
Chris: The only other fighter I can think of I’d probably never want to fight is Evan Tanner. He and I are like brothers, too.
Who does he want to fight?
Chris: I will fight anyone the UFC tells me to but I really want to fight Baroni and Koscheck. Swick has said in the past that he wants a rematch so I would do that for him (laughter) so he’d realize the first time I beat him wasn’t a fluke!
Cindy: Mike’s going to love that one! That’s going to about do it, Chris. I’m glad we finally got to touch base because you’re a hard kid to pin down. Do you want to plug your web site, mention any sponsors or have any messages for your fans?
Chris: Yeah, I stay pretty busy. To you, thanks for the interview and the little message from Koscheck. Oh, I’m in the market for a supplements sponsor. Anyone reading this who would like to sponsor me so I can keep training and winning fights, please contact me through my web site at chrisleben.com. If you work for a company that wants me to represent them (laughter) and become a sponsor, please hit me up.
I think I have the greatest fans and I appreciate all the support I get from you guys because when I’m in the gym busting my ass, my motivation a lot of the times is my fans. They’re the best.
Cindy: I’ll make sure I send Koscheck a copy of the interview so he’ll know what you had to say about some of his comments and his message to you (laughter)! I don’t think many people could say they don’t want to see the two of you mix it up in the octagon again!
Chris: Anytime! We’ll find out who the pussy is.
Cindy: Oh, dayum! I’ll be in touch soon, Chris. Take care.
Chris: You, too. I’ll talk to you later. Thanks again.