(Photo courtesy of Sherdog.)
Following career setbacks due to alcohol and steroids, a one-year suspension due to unapproved painkillers was the last thing that Chris Leben needed in his life. But in a recent appearance on MMAFighting.com’s The MMA Hour, Leben spoke publicly for the first time since the incident last November, saying that getting caught following his loss to Mark Munoz at UFC 138 was the best thing to ever happen to him:
“I’ve battled drugs and alcohol. I’ve battled with those for my entire life. I’ve had an issue with being addicted to painkillers for years now. I had some issues with my camp and it was almost a cry for help. I knew I was going to get caught and I just didn’t care at the time. I’m extremely embarrassed, I feel like I let down the UFC, but at the same time I think getting caught is probably the best thing to ever happen to me. The UFC has been unbelievable, they sent me to a rehab facility and they really took care of me.”
As Leben tells it, he had hoped to go cold-turkey off the painkillers before the fight, but his addiction was too powerful:
“My wife had brought them to me for after the fight, and I had tapered off them for the fight, but there were some issues, a lot of stress, and I cracked. It was as simple as that. I knew they were there and I cracked. I couldn’t hold out.”
Leben says he hasn’t taken a pain pill since he got out of rehab, though he did have a brief relapse with alcohol, and is now taking Antabuse to help him stay on track. Leben now says that his life is “going really good, better than it has in a long, long time,” and that he hopes he’ll make a return to the Octagon late this year.
The question is, how long will these good times last? Can Leben make it through the rest of his career without succumbing to his old habits? While his painkiller bust might have been “the best thing to ever happen” to him, catching another suspension this late in his fighting career would be devastating, and possibly career-ending.
Before his fight against Munoz, we tried to ask Leben if he’d learned anything from his previous struggles with addiction, and he kind of jumped down our throat. It was clearly a sore subject, which makes more sense now that we know he was still very much in the grips of addiction at the time. That’s something he’ll have to struggle with the rest of his life, and hopefully it’s a fight he can win.
Related: Five MMA Fighters Who Beat Addiction