Exclusive Chris Leben interview: BKFC rising in popularity, work as a referee, fight against addiction, difference between MMA and bare-knuckle boxing and much more
This weekend UFC veteran Chris Leben (22-11 MMA, BKFC 2-0) is going back to the ring to have his third bare knuckle fight and take part in BKFC 6. Initially, Charlie Ward was supposed to be his opponent but he had to cope with some emergency, and so Chris is now about to fight notorious Dakota Cochrane.
Harcord team had an interesting talk with the noted veteran who was kind enough to tell us about his training for the fight, difference between MMA and bare-knuckle boxing, rising popularity of BKFC, reasons of his MMA retirement, problems with alcohol and many more.
On his training for the fight and change of opponent:
“Training camp went great. Weight is good. I feel awesome. Last-minute opponent change that’s always a challenge but I’m a veteran I’ve been through this before. I’ve had a lot of fights against a lot of different style fighters. Will make the adjustments and I’m confident for next weekend.”
“Yeah, Dakota is completely different than Ward, no doubt about that. One throws straight punches and fights on the outside; the other one is heavy-handed, moves forward and wings over hands. I’m preparing for Dakota putting together a game plan but I can’t wait for next weekend.”
On difference between MMA and bare-knuckle boxing:
“I’ve trained MMA my whole life. I coach MMA, a Referee MMA. I love the sport. But I have to say Bare-Knuckle Boxing is the hottest most exciting thing out right now, and I feel as though it was tailor-made for my style. The big differences in training are obviously no need Jujitsu or Wrestling Boxing; range is closer than kickboxing range and with no gloves you got to be even closer than that; also, with no gloves precision striking super important.”
On BKFC rising in popularity and competing with UFC:
“BKFC is getting bigger and better every show. Its popularity is growing at an extremely high rate. The UFC has been making its brand for 25 years. I don’t think the BKFC has to try to compete with UFC; I think they are too very different things but I do think the BKFC is going to continue to grow and get bigger and bigger and the sky is the limit.”
On why he left MMA and his activity outside the Octagon:
“You know, when I retired, I was dealing with a lot of adversity. I was in a messed-up relationship and making some extremely unhealthy choices. And it was reflecting in the way I was competing. Ultimately, I got out of that relationship, got sober, signed with Bellator and then found out I had a health issue and could not fight. After a few more years of clean living, healthy eating and supplementation I was able to overcome those issues. I feel better now, sharper, faster, stronger, wiser, than I ever have.”
“I didn’t just sit on my ass for those three years. I was coaching full-time, I was at two different gyms coaching for the first two years before settling into where I’ve been for the last four years of that arena. I still coach full-time. I love my gym, we’re like a big family.”
On his fight against addiction:
“There’s no denying I’ve had my troubles mainly with alcohol and quitting was not easy for me but I’m active in my recovery. I help other alcoholics and I stay involved in the recovery lifestyle, and since I made that change my life has gotten better and better every single day. If I can do it anybody can.”
On his warm relationships with Dana White:
“Our relationships has definitely gone through some ups and downs. Ultimately, he’s a good guy but he’s a business guy ultimately. I’m a good guy but I can be emotional you know. I saw him not too long ago and things between us are good. Don’t think he’s going to send me a check for $1 million anytime soon though LOL.”
On his work as a referee:
“You know, I always wanted to referee. Finally, when I had the time, I signed up for Herb Dean course. I thought with all my years of coaching and fighting it would be a breeze. It was extremely difficult. I had no idea how much I didn’t know. Ultimately, I passed and truly I love being a referee; it poses a lot of unique challenges and allows me to give back to the sport.”
On his goals and plans for the future:
“At this point in my life I’m taking it one fight at a time and trying to increase the opportunity to get back in there and compete. My first Bareknuckle fighting went well. I’ve got my third in a week and then I’ll sit down with the family and reevaluate.”
In BKFC Chris has already had two fights – against Phil Baroni and Justin Baesman – and won both of them.