Local UFC veteran set to compete in first bare knuckle competition

SAN DIEGO -- Longtime UFC veteran Chris Leben returns to the ring in November after five years since his last fight.

This time, he's competing without any gloves, in his first bare knuckle competition.

Once known as "The Crippler", Leben spent 10 years competing in the UFC Middlewight division where he compiled a record of 12-10.

"I've been doing this sport my whole life," said Leben. "I feel like honestly the actual fight itself, don't really like it, never really have. People always say you must love to fight. No, I love to train, I love the camaraderie of the gym, I love martial arts."

His passion is why the 38-year-old decided to come out of retirement. Instead of returning to the octagon, he'll get in the boxing ring, where he's set to fight for the first championship belt with the World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation.

"How you hit is very important," said Leben. "

Only his wrists and thumbs will be taped when Leben steps into the ring, with knuckles exposed. He'll compete for five rounds lasting two minutes each.

You can bet there will be blood.

However, Leben argues that bare knuckle fighting isn't as damaging as it looks.

"The volume of punches is a lot lower," said Leben. "You can't have that repeated trauma. Your hand doesn't have a big pad on it so you can continue to just whack away and also there's a lot more adhesions and those will stop a fight quicker. The thing about those, it's not brain trauma, it's just a cut. It's superficial. It looks scary to somebody from the outside but there's really no health risk there."

Though you wouldn't be able to tell now, Leben was diagnosed with a life threatening heart condition in 2016 that forced him into early retirement, but like any true competitor, he found a way to overcome.

"My heart, my ejection fraction was super low," said Leben. "They were like you need a new heart."

Leben was told he'd have under a year to live and was put on a transplant list. He reversed his condition with holistic medicine, quit drinking and changed his diet.

Leben will compete against UFC alumn Phil Baroni at the "Rise of the Titans" bare-knuckle boxing event in Casper, Wyoming on Friday, November 9.

Chris currently trains out of The Arena Gym and leads their Accelerated Training Program.