by Jeff Cain
Chris ‘The Crippler’ Leben enters the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) octagon tonight to go to war with Luigi Fioravanti live on Spike TV. ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ (TUF) season one star has been on every ‘Ultimate Fight Night’ card and tonight will be no exception. Leben recently spoke with MMAWeekly about his fight with Fioravanti, his popularity, who he’d like to fight next, and his quest for the UFC middleweight title.

Chris Leben didn’t come away the winner that first season of TUF, but was easily the most recognizable and controversial personality on the show. Since then, he has gone on a four fight winning streak. When asked if he thought, going into that first season, that he would see the success and celebrity status that he has received, Leben said, “Yea. Absolutely. The one thing I didn’t figure is I was going to lose on the TV show. I don’t know. Maybe it is me. Knock on wood, but I always think I’m going to win. I generally think I’m better than my opponent going in there. There has only been a few cases where I’ve had fights that I’ve been like, yea this guy is a better fighter than me, but I’m still going to go in and do what I can. I think with all the hard work that I’ve been putting in, comparing myself with the other guys that I train with, I fell like, yea, I deserve to be where I’m at.”

“I’m ready to go man. I’m excited. I’m ready to go get in there and beat this kid up and then go skateboarding for like a week.” Chris Leben said to MMAWeekly Radio about his match tonight against Luigi Fioravanti.

Leben knows a little bit about his opponent, but doesn’t have nearly the footage as Luigi has of him at his disposal. Discussing Fioravanti, Leben said, “I talked to Joe Silva. He told me, ‘hey this is a tough kid.’ He is like 7-0. He’s undefeated. He has fought some pretty tough guys and won in good fashion. He’s supposed to be a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve got a little bit of tape on him, only two fights. What I saw was looked like me about three years ago, the way I used to fight about three years ago. He goes in there and just wants to slug with guys. I didn’t see him attempt to take anybody down. Looks like he can hit pretty hard, and at the same time he can take a shot. That is what I see in my opponent. I’ll go out on a limb and say I don’t think he is the toughest guy I’ve ever faced.”

Elaborating on where he was “three years ago,” Leben added, “Three years ago I’d say my game was really broken up. On the feet, I would just swing for the fences. You know what I mean? I thought every shot had to be a huge shot, no head motion whatsoever. I only moved one direction, straight forward. As far as my ground game went, my top game really wasn’t that good. What I really had was a decent guard and the ability to submit people from the bottom.”

If Leben gets the win tonight, he was asked whom he’d like to fight next. He responded, “Who would I want to fight? Um, I’d like to fight ‘The Diesel,’ Joe Riggs, because I think that would be a fun, explosive fight. I know he likes to get after it. I like to get after it. I think our styles would really match up.”

It was highly publicized on the first season of TUF, Leben handed Mike ‘Quick’ Swick the only blemish on Swick’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) record. ‘The Crippler’ knocked out Swick at World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) 9: ‘Cold Blooded’ in January of 2004. Chris was asked about a rematch with Swick and why he was able to defeat him in their first encounter. He said, “I think it is just his style of fighting doesn’t work very well for a guy like me because when someone starts unloading on me, which Swick likes to do with guys with straight punches straight down the pipe, instead of covering and backing up like a lot of guys do which allows him to run them down, as soon as I get hit, my arm, it is a typical reaction, my arm goes flying. If someone hits me real hard, my reaction generally isn’t to back up and take more shots. It is to say, crap, I’m in trouble. I’m going to hit them back hard . . . When he did fight me, he did hit me three or four times, but instead of backing up and covering, I just started swinging back at him. I think that is why I got both of those, when I knocked him down in the first and then again in the second.”

The only loss on Chris Leben’s 14-1-0 professional MMA record is to Joe Doerksen at Freestyle Fighting Championships (FFC) in May of 2004. Questioned if he’d like a rematch with Doerksen to avenge his only loss, Leben said, “Yea. I would. I definitely want another shot at Doerksen, obviously just for personal reasons. I talked to Joe [Silva] about getting me that fight, but he took a fight outside of the UFC and lost or something. They didn’t want to line up that fight at that time for me, but Joe’s a great guy. I really like him. I hope that things work out so that we can eventually face each other again, and then I can beat him up.”

‘The New York Bad Ass,’ Phil Baroni, and Chris Leben is a dream match up. The two have reportedly had beef, according to Baroni, in the past at a Vegas nightclub. Leben was asked about Phil Baroni. He commented, “I think that Baroni, I don’t recall any sort of conflict at all. I’ve got a feeling that he made most of that up. I remember him being at the same club as me. I think it was something like, you know, he said he could beat me up, or something like that. And I probably said, sure man. You can probably kick my ass. Right? The last thing I’m going to do is get into a fight at a club because somebody is feeling tough. As far as fighting him goes, gosh, I’d love to. I’d love to fight him, you know, in the cage where we both get paid for it. I don’t want to have him get beat up for free. I’d at least like to get him some jack for kicking his ass.”

You could hear it in Leben’s voice; the rivalry with Josh Koscheck from season one of TUF is still fresh in Leben’s mind. Questioned if he would like an official fight with Josh Koscheck, Leben answered, “I would love to fight Koscheck. You know what happened on that show, honestly? I fought out of anger. Even though he did zero damage to me whatsoever, all he did was have a couple of good takedowns and hold me down pretty decent. That was a big part of my game that I went back and worked hours, and hours, and hours in the gym. There is no way the guy could hold me down now. I would love to fight him again because I know that I’m a better fighter than he is. And I know that Josh Koscheck didn’t beat me, I beat myself in that fight.”

Leben is in no hurry to get a title shot. To be a UFC champion is on his agenda, but he doesn’t feel the urgency to fulfill that goal in the immediate future. Leben told MMAWeekly, “Am I ready for a title shot? Having a UFC title is definitely one of my goals. Before I’m done with that sport, I’m going to get that belt. Right now, it is not so much that I don’t feel like I’m ready for a title shot. If the UFC said, Chris, I want you to fight Rich Franklin, I would go in there, and I would honestly believe I’d beat Rich Franklin if I fought him. The problem is, there are a lot of good guys out there. Just because Loiseau lost to Rich Franklin doesn’t mean he’s not a good guy. Evan Tanner, love him to death, but he’s a great guy. Jeremy Horn’s at 185. Trevor Prangley’s at 85. There are all of these guys that are tough. I don’t want to be a one-time belt winner. That isn’t my goal. My goal is for people to go, yep, I beat him. Yep, I beat him, not that I beat the guy that has the belt. I want to beat everybody.”

Chris continued, “I’m watching myself grow. Training up here with Matt Hume, he is literally running me into the ground with training. I’ve never looked better. I’m lighter than I’ve been in years going into this fight. I’m lighter. I’m leaner. I’m stronger. My technique, I’m doing things that I wasn’t doing. I’m doing things now that I wasn’t doing a year ago. I’m doing things now that I wasn’t doing two months ago. I know, right now, if I stepped into the ring with myself six months ago, I would destroy the fighter I was six months ago. That is how fast I am growing right now. That is how fast I am improving. Everybody keeps asking where is the title shot. My question is, where is the fire? Right now, my main thing is I want to become the best in the world. The way you become the best in the world is by putting the time in, putting the time in the gym. And as fast as I’m growing right now; I just want to keep growing and growing and growing until I’m unstoppable and there is nobody that even wants to fight me because they know I’ll beat them down.”

Leben concluded the interview with a message to his fans. He wanted his fans to know, “I’d like to say to everybody that is listening to check out my website. I’ve got a new website up. It is www.chrisleben.com, or www.crippler.tv. On there, I’m going to have an auction for charity. I’m going to auction off my gloves and my shorts and everything that I wear into this fight. I’m going to actually auction off my gloves that I knocked out Jorge Rivera with. If that is something anybody is interested in, we’re going to auction those off and give the proceeds to The Big Brother, Big Sister Organization. Check it out if you’re interested.”

To listen to the interview in it’s entirety, click on the radio archive.