Chris Leben’s first shot at Michael Bisping didn’t exactly go as planned. Soon after signing to fight “The Count” at UFC 85 in London, Leben was forced to return to Oregon to deal with an outstanding warrant resulting from a DUI arrest before he could leave the country. Though Leben and the UFC were hoping to resolve the matter quickly, the judge had other plans. Leben was sentenced to thirty-five days in jail, prompting the UFC to scratch him from the card.
With his legal troubles now behind him, Leben is getting a second chance at Bisping, this time at UFC 89 in Birmingham, England. In this exclusive CagePotato interview Leben discusses his maturation process as a fighter, his gameplan against Bisping, dealing with hometown judges, and more.
CagePotato.com: Hey Chris. Thanks for talking with me. We’re a few weeks out from the fight. How is your preparation coming?
Really good, really well. It’s been long and intense and I’m kind of just getting to the point now where I’m ready to go fight and get this thing over with.
It seems like things really changed for you when you moved to Hawaii. What has that move done for you?
You know, it’s great. Moving to Hawaii is definitely the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had the opportunity to be the head coach at Icon and there are a whole bunch of guys out here training with me who are just great. But besides the gym and the wonderful people out here you have the weather and everything that is Hawaii. It’s been really conducive to my training.
I hear a lot of people say you’re much more mature these days, no longer such a wild guy in and out of the cage. What do you think prompted that transformation?
Losing (laughs). You know, I got away with being a brawler for a long time. And it’s hard to change things when they’re working. But when I fought Anderson I realized, I might be able to beat 95% of the guys out there, but I’ll never be a world champion fighting this way. So I had to go back and change a lot of things. That was one part of it.
And the other part was, you know, coaching. Now that I have a team of amateur guys fighting, it’s hard to tell them to do something if you’re not doing it yourself.
You’re getting your second chance to take a fight against Bisping. Missing the first one and sitting in jail for a few weeks must have been really frustrating for you.
It was. It was a huge bummer. It was an opportunity for me to take some time out and put things in perspective. When I missed that fight and then I got out of jail and I remember watching the fight that I would have been in and that really lit a fire under me. I thought, ‘I can’t believe I missed this chance.’
And then when they gave me the opportunity to fight him again, it was that much more intense and it pushed me that much more to prepare. Every time I think about how I don’t want to train any more that day, I think about this chance and what an opportunity it is. You know, I could be in jail instead, so it’s definitely motivating.
What’s your plan against Bisping? How do you think you’re going to beat him?
In my eyes, the problem that Bisping has is he’s a well-rounded fighter. I think I’m a well-rounded fighter as well, I just think I’m a little better than he is. If he was a great striker or a great grappler then he might be able to look to beat me in some specific aspect. But the way he is I think I can go out and just fight and it doesn’t matter where it goes. On the feet or on the ground, I’m pretty much comfortable anywhere in the cage with Bisping.
However, if I had to tell you what his greatest attribute is, in this case I’d say it’s the judges. We all saw that fight with Matt Hamill. Now I’m fighting him in his hometown in England. It’s up to me to go out and finish the fight. I’ve got to push the pace. If he just tries to stick and move and run from me the whole time and squeeze out a victory, that’s something I have to watch out for because he can do that.
Is that really something you’re aware of going into this fight, that decision he got against Hamill?
Absolutley. I’m absolutely thinking about that. I can’t just go out there and beat him like I normally would. I can’t just say, ‘all right, I’m beating him here and beating him there,’ and be comfortable. I have to go out there and finish the fight in order to win. I have to.
I’ve heard you say that you think Bisping will look to land a lot of punches and you’ll just need to land one or two. Is that really how you see the fight going?
To some extent. You know, we’re just different style fighters, really. I don’t throw as many punches as him, but the ones that I do throw are a whole heck of a lot harder. I’ve been working on the technical aspect of my style for a while now, but no matter how long I work at it I’m never going to be the same kind of striker that Bisping is. I’m always going to throw fewer punches and harder punches.
Where do you think the winner of this fight will be in terms of the UFC’s middleweight division?
You never know what the UFC is going to do. You never can say what decision they’ll make, or what’s driving the decisions backstage. Definitely a win against Michael Bisping for catapults me up near that top ranking, and vice versa. We’re both kind of in the same spot and that’s what makes it an important fight for both of us.
Thanks, Chris. Anything else you’d like to add?
I just want to thank my fans for supporting me and say look forward to an exciting fight.