Former UFC fighter and breakout star from season one of The Ultimate Fighter reality show — Chris Leben — spoke with MMAFighting.com’s Luke Thomas on “The Luke Thomas Show” on SIRIUS/XM radio on Friday about the heart condition that kept him from making his MMA fighting return in the Bellator cage as was originally intended after he signed a contract with the promotion in February.
Below are highlights of the interview from the aforementioned “Luke Thomas Show,” which airs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on SIRIUS/XM 93.
On what the doctors found wrong with his heart:
“Basically, I was doing my pre-fight stuff. I failed the EKG, so I took four more, continued to fail as my left ventricle was putting out too much electricity. They did a cardio-ecogram where they went in and actually look. They do an ultrasound of your heart while it’s pumping.
“Unfortunately, my left ventricle is oversized, misshapen and not pumping correctly. It’s pumping at 18 percent, which I’m told is not a good thing.”
On if he had been feeling symptoms prior to the exam:
“You know, that’s the crazy thing. I’ve never felt better. That was the big thing about this comeback was I’m off the Suboxone, I’m off the medications the doctors have been giving me. I’m 100 percent drug, alcohol free and eating healthy. I’m in the gym, I’m beating up all the 20-year-olds. I’m a little leaner than I used to be and I’m back to eating meat again, but that’s great for fighting.
“I was doing awesome. I would come in in the morning, I’d do jiu-jitsu with Baret Yoshida, then I’d come and do my kickboxing with Vince, then I’d do go over with Andy and do my strength and conditioning, so three hours in the morning and I was back for team practice at night.”
On what doctors told him would happen if he had continued fighting:
“The doctors were like, ‘You don’t have a problem walking up these stairs?’ That’s the way they’re looking at it. They’re blown away that I’m performing the way that I am, that I can do the things I can do with my heart, because it’s just not pumping the blood and apparently that’s an important thing. It’s definitely extremely frustration.
“[They were most worried about] stroke, heart attack, yeah. Heart failure is actually the condition. Basically, my heart is failing. It’s got dead tissue on it, it’s oversized. There’s plethora of reasons this can happen. It happens more commonly to athletes.
They’re not saying it’s linked to alcohol or anything like that, but my guess is I train my ass off when I’m in the gym. I never miss a day in the gym, but for a long time, I also took advantage of the night life as well. So, I’m kinda burning the candle from both ends for years. I think my heart just couldn’t take it.”