Chris Leben

Chris Leben: BKFC swan song, Knucklemania, and TUF 1 anniversary

BKFC: Knucklemania goes down on Friday, February 5th. Quentin Henry will knuckle up and toe the line against Chris Leben live on pay per view. The latest Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship event emanates from RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Florida.

Below are several excerpts from my recent conversation with The Crippler ahead of his striking sendoff.

What are your thoughts on Quentin Henry‘s skill set?

“I think he’s relatively knowledgeable. I know he’s got his own gym. He’s a brawler but he’s an educated brawler. He slugs but knows what he’s doing when he’s in there swinging. That being said he is a little bit of a ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ kind of guy. And really, I am too. Ultimately that’s what I want. This is my farewell fight, my final fight. I certainly don’t want it to be a boring one. Win, lose, or draw, I want to give the crowd what they want. And I want to finish that legacy of mine with another spectacular bout.”

Chris Leben

The goal seemed to involve refereeing more in the summer but the pandemic causing a redirection towards competition

“Ultimately I want to pursue a career in judging and refereeing along with coaching and running my own gym. As you know with the COVID especially being out here in California, it’s kind of slammed on the brakes on a lot of things going for me. That being said, I’ve never really taken a day out of the gym or off from the gym. I’ve been doing my one on one private lessons and then been training myself.”

This being The Crippler‘s final striking-based bout

“The BKFC, Nate (Shook) and Dave (Feldman) were kind of hitting me up like ‘Hey, what about one more, man? One more.’ Ultimately, I must love it because everything is going fine. I really have no reason to fight other than why not? I enjoy it. I’d like to finish my career on a win. Quentin Henry is a fantastic fight, great opportunity, and I think it’s going to be an exciting fight for the crowd.”

BKFC: Knucklemania

Chris Leben training with the current heavyweight champion Joey Beltran

“I’ve here at The Arena training with Joe Vargas the boxing coach here. He’s been bringing in various boxers for me to work with. We’re close to the border, so guys can come over from Tijuana and all over the place. Not to mention there’s numerous great fighters here as well. You know, but that being said, I don’t want to pull a Max Holloway here or something like that. Or Robbie Lawler and say that I’m not into the hard sparring.”

“But I will say that I’ve had a lot of tough rounds in my life. Getting these hard rounds with a guy like Joey (Beltran) is important. But more important than that is just the timing, the range, the reflexes. Sharpening skills and getting in there with my boxing coach. And that’s really more what I’ve been focusing on is keeping the body healthy and sharpening my skills.”

Submission Grappling future for Chris Leben

“I’m a martial artist through and through. Whether it’s boxing, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, MMA. I want to be versatile and I want to be able to train guys or corner guys in all those aspects. Jiu-jitsu is a passion of mine. It’s something I love. I’ve been here at The Arena with Baret Yoshida for six or seven years. I’ve had a chance to compete underneath him but not since he gave me my black belt.”

“Mainly because I’ve been doing the BKFC’s. Focusing on the striking and just rolling jiu-jitsu in my free time. But absolutely once I’m retired from striking sports, I’m going to continue to train jiu-jitsu. Just because you don’t get hurt as bad. I could be 50 years old, a professional referee, and still be competing in jiu-jitsu and that’s what I plan to do.”

Leben vs Henry

Got to be part of Lobov vs Malignaggi at BKFC 6. Big performances on the BKFC circuit. Thoughts on being a fixture on this huge Knucklemania card?

“It’s by far the biggest event BKFC has ever had. I’m on there, Paige (Van Zant) is on there, a ton of other great fighters on there. I mean every show the BKFC has had has gotten bigger and better progressively. They’re growing, they’re getting more and more talent. The level of talent is increasing. People are starting to understand bare-knuckle boxing. What works, what doesn’t work. The game is changing and you can see it.”

Playing a key role in growing the sport as a competitor and representative…What it’s like being an ambassador for BKFC and what are your thoughts on the seemingly perpetual growth of the promotion as well as the sport by-proxy?

“It’s just so cool to be a part of that growth. To be part of something so fresh. Hopefully, in 30 years from now I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren, I was one of the first Bare Knuckle boxers to kind of revive this sport in America.”


It seems like you really care about it on a grassroots level. I saw you at the BKFC tryouts there in Arizona. Cultivating the next crop of talent and everything like that.

So it’s cool to see that you’re as invested both as a competitor and just an ambassador of the sport overall man.

“I’ve been helping out with the tryouts. You know the selection process, helping Nate (Shook) the matchmaker do that. That’s been a really great experience. Hopefully, it’ll continue after this fight. And we’ll continue to get better and better talent coming into the BKFC.”

The Ultimate Fighter season one anniversary took place recently. The 16 year anniversary was just a week or so ago there.

Thoughts on the TUF 1 experience, then and now, from Chris Leben.

“It’s crazy, man. 16 years, it’s hard to believe. I do get hit up every day about that first season of the Ultimate Fighter. Who knows where combat sports would be today if it wasn’t for the Ultimate Fighter? For Stephan (Bonnar) and for Forrest (Griffin). For Kenny (Florian), Diego (Sanchez), all the guys off that show. That’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool to say that I was part of that.”

The Ultimate Fighter season one

“During the filming process I’ll be honest, it was pretty rough. Sixteen dudes locked in a house for eight or nine weeks, no TV. I always tell people it’s kind of like boot camp, you don’t want to do it. It’s not necessarily the most fun thing in the world but afterwards, you’re certainly glad you did it. That’s kind of what the first season of The Ultimate Fighter was like. None of us had any idea what it was going to do for our careers, much less UFC and combat sports as a whole. It’s pretty cool now to look back and go ‘wow, we really changed things.'”

Parting thoughts for Chris Leben

“No, man. Just make sure you guys tune in. Hit me up on social media. Follow me on Instagram, blah blah blah, all that crap. Other than that, man, I look forward to seeing everybody on February 5th.”

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