Skip to content

In The Arena Blog

Chris Leben Announces His Retirement from Bare Knuckle Boxing

Get 30 Days Free At The Arena Gym in San Diego

In 2014 Chris Leben retired from the UFC, finishing his MMA career on what he considered a disappointing note. He spent the next few years cleaning up his lifestyle and improving his health before stepping back in the ring, this time in bare knuckle boxing. After three great fights, he’s decided he can happily retire from professional fighting, and focus his energy on his next phase of life.


Chris Leben:
Hey, what’s up, everybody? Chris Leben. I just wanted to put out this short video and make this official. Everybody knows I’ve been competing in the Bare Knuckle and I think it’s time to retire. Couple reasons why. Dave Feldman and the BKFC have been wonderful to me, so has nothing to do with that at all. It has to do with the fact that, first and foremost, I’m an amateur ref here in California. I’m aspiring to go pro. I want to do that and I feel like it’s a conflict of interest being both a referee and an athlete at the same time. So, I want to focus on my career as a referee. Also, I want to focus on my career as a coach, as an elite level coach. I coach Jiu-Jitsu, I coach boxing, coach MMA, and when I’m training, I don’t have the time to put the energy into my athletes when you’re focusing on your own training.

When you’re in training camp, as everybody knows, the rest of life gets put on hold, in at least the way that I want to train. So now, wanting to be a referee, wanting to focus on my fighters, my coaching, my family. Focus on my family, have time and energy for them when I get home. Those are all reasons. And then lastly, I miss Jiu-Jitsu. I got my black belt from Baret Yoshida, and because I’ve been training for these boxing matches, I haven’t even had the opportunity to compete in Jiu-Jitsu the way that I want. I’ve done one fight to win, but since then, I haven’t been able to compete in the last year and a half in Jiu-Jitsu. So, I want to focus on that.

I want to represent the brand properly. That means I need to get out there and I need to do it. I’m one of those people, I don’t want to just parade around that I got my black belt. I want to go out there and I want to do something. I know I’m 40 now, but still I think I have some time, and Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t damage my body the way fighting does.

Also, here’s the biggest thing that I wanted to talk about. My UFC career did not finish the way that I wanted it to. I don’t think most people’s do. But, I ended up going through a ton of struggles both in and out of the cage. Battling with addiction. Battling with alcoholism. Ultimately when I came here to the arena, I got on that path to recovery and most people that follow me know I just got my two year coin. So I’ve been 100% sober for two years now. The battle’s been much longer than that though. It’s been four years that I’ve really worked at it. I had two slips on alcohol in the last four years. But the last two years, I have abstained from any and everything and, God willing, it’s going to be that way the rest of my life.

So that being said, for a guy that’s known for putting his heart in the cage. For a guy that would go out there and die before he would give up in a fight. I finished my UFC career on the stool. Now, if you don’t know what that means, that means I didn’t answer the bell for the third … no, the referee didn’t count me out. There was no TKO or submission. I just didn’t answer the bell for the third round. And that’s because my heart wasn’t in it. And that was devastating to me. That was crippling to me to have finished my career that way.

Saying that, once I got on this path to recovery, I tried to go back and fight for Bellator, got a contract. I failed my medicals, my pre-fight medicals. Turned out, my heart was completely shot, obviously they said from the excessive training and excessive alcohol. But by changing literally everything in my life, abstaining from drugs and alcohol, changing my diet, changing how I manage stress, anxiety, changing, where I live, changing, who I surround myself with, slowly but surely, my heart improved, little by little. First they said I needed a new heart. Then they told me I didn’t need a new heart, I just needed a pacemaker. Of course I couldn’t train anymore if I got that. So I didn’t get it. And I kept going back to the cardiologist, and she just kept saying, “Well, it’s a miracle. I can’t believe you just keep getting better.” Turns out, the human body’s pretty crazy. If you stand back and give it a chance to heal, it will. And I’m a perfect example of that. Just by taking out those things that were wrong in my life, my body healed.

My body healed to the point that my cardiologist one day said, “You’re good. You’re normal now.” And I said, “Well, does that mean I could fight?” She said, “Yeah, I would sign off on you fighting.” And that’s about the time I got the call from the Bare Knuckle. So, ultimately I had three fights in Bare Knuckle boxing. One, I fought Phil Baroni, a first round knockout. Second one, I fought Justin Baesman, first round knockout. And my third and final fight, I fought Dakota Cochrane. Tough dude, tough guy, tough fight. Now, there were some things leading up to the fight that didn’t work out in my favor. That doesn’t matter. Here’s what matters.

I went out there and I fought five rounds. At the end of the fight, I had 36 stitches in my face. The side of my nose was ripped off. I had a broken orbital. But I answered every bell. And I finished that fight on my feet. Now, the judges didn’t see it my way. I think it was a close fight. I think he could have gone either way, but they gave it to him. That’s cool. That’s not what matters. What matters is, I didn’t finish my career on the stool.

So, reflecting and thinking about it. To be able to have the opportunity to come back to combat sports after everything, after a lifetime of combat sports, and finishing the way I did. To be able to come back, have those three fights, have that last fight, being a knockdown, drag out war, and finish it in traditional crippler fashion. I feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish. I healed my body and I healed my pride, or I healed who I am. I healed the pain, the emotional pain, that I was dealing with. And I think it showed in that last fight. So, as far as that goes up, accomplished what I want to accomplish. And now, we get old enough, we move out of our parents’ house. It’s kind of the same thing. You progress to a certain point and it’s time to switch from being the competitor to being the coach, to being the referee. It’s time for me to make that switch and make that progression.

So this is just me officially putting it out there. Thank you for all the support, everybody over all the years. If you’re a fan of combat sports, I hope that you’re going to still be seeing my name for a long time. Because I’ll tell you what, I ain’t going back to school. So hopefully you’re going to see me coaching guys that are fighting in the UFC. Hopefully one day, you’re going to see me refereeing guys that are fighting in the UFC. Judging fights that are in the UFC, Bellator, any high level organization. That’s my goal. That’s my aspiration. And I’m going to do everything in my power to get there and do that so that I can give back to the sport that has given so much to me.

That’s all I got to say. Thank you guys. God bless.

By providing your phone number, you agree to receive text messages from The Arena Gym. Message and data rates may apply. Message frequency varies. You can opt-out at any time by texting STOP, or HELP for any help. View our Privacy Policy.