The Crippler is back. Chris Leben signs with Bellator.
Today, Bellator announced that they inked Chris Leben to a contract. Leben, who hasn’t won a fight since the summer of 2011, previously retired in 2014, saying that he wanted to make sure he had a head still on its shoulders and a brain, while raising his kids.
Leben’s best known for being on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter and helping launch that show as a success. Many turn to the Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin fight as a major turning point for the UFC (and it was), but it was Leben’s conflict with Josh Koscheck and Bobby Southworth that really kicked the show into high gear.
Leben came into the UFC off the first TUF season as a young star. He won his first four fights on early UFC Fight Night cards (he actually fought on the first six of them) until he was thrown into the wolves against Anderson Silva in his UFC debut. Leben was about a .500 fighter from that point on, but scored big wins against Yoshihiro Akiyama and famously knocked out Wanderlei Silva in the first round at UFC 132.
Bellator’s press release is below.
SANTA MONICA (February 6, 2015) – Bellator MMA is proud to announce the signing of Chris “The Crippler” Leben (22-11) to an exclusive multi-year, multi-fight contract. The former World Extreme Cagefighting Middleweight World Champion has fought professionally since 2002, and holds the record for most fights in the UFC at 185-pounds (22).
Since taking a break from the sport in 2014, Leben has resided in San Diego, Calif. and served as a coach at Victory MMA & Fitness. Known for his tendency to put on an exciting show each and every time he enters the cage, Leben was a member of the inaugural cast of “The Ultimate Fighter” alongside fellow Bellator MMA competitors Stephan Bonnar and Josh Koscheck. The 35-year-old has fought elite talent throughout his mixed martial arts tenure, against names the likes of: Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Brian Stann, Michael Bisping, Patrick Cote, Mark Munoz, and Bellator MMA’s own Alessio Sakara.
“If I were to draw up the prototypical Bellator MMA competitor, there would be parts of Chris [Leben] in there,” Bellator MMA President Scott Coker said. “The guy has never had a boring fight and as I’ve said from day one, we’re going to continue to grow from the ground up and buy from the top down. I know that Chris still has a lot of fight left in him and I’m excited to see him fight We are hoping to see his Bellator debut this Spring.”
“Focusing on just coaching at Victory MMA has been amazing, but recently, I started to get the itch to compete again,” Leben said. “So I extended an olive branch to the people at Bellator and here I am. I’m in great shape, I love the possible matchups this roster has to offer and I’m ready to show the world why they call me ‘The Crippler.’”
Leben joins a budding roster of Bellator MMA talent, with recent signings that include: Benson Henderson, Anastasia Yankova, Lena Ovchynnikova, and Sergei Kharitonov.
It has yet to be determined what weight class Leben will compete at, but when asked what division he hopes to settle in, Leben made it clear: “I’ll go wherever the big fights are.”