Broadcasted before millions, “The Crippler” Chris Leben captured the attention of MMA fans as an emotional basket case with a left hand that could write a murder case as a participant in the UFC’s first installment of their reality show: The Ultimate Fighter. Many of Leben’s exploits as a mixed martial artist in the UFC were publicized, but the darkness behind these truths remained locked away with the skeletons, until recently. In a tell all memoir written with Daniel Patinkin, Leben pulled no punches when packaging his autobiography, The Crippler: Cage Fighting and My Life on the Edge (2016).
What’s It About?
At the onset of the book, “The Crippler” shatters any walls of reservation and invites readers along in following his path of excess to, hopefully, learn moderation. The level of Leben’s honesty may tug at the sensitivities of those who crack the binding. In fact, early on in the text, it’s revealed:
I think it is fair to say I was a very good fighter—maybe even a great fighter—at times. But I was never the best, no matter how hard I tried or how badly I wanted it. As a result, you may be wondering why you should give two shits about what’s contained in the next couple hundred pages. (p. viii)
Buried in the epilogue, the ghost writer, Daniel Patinkin, denoted the thematic undertone of Leben’s tale as,
Moreover, I’ve learned a lot about life from interacting with Chris. He’s shown me how far a person can go if he believes in himself and stays committed to his dreams. Chris has encouraged me to be less reluctant to take public risks or to show the world exactly who I am, for better or worse. (p. 265)
Since Leben disclosed leaving the writing side of things to Patinkin, the black ink stamped across twenty-four pound white paper harmoniously clashed to present the polar opposites of Leben that colorfully shaped his personality while maturing—a process he’d admit required some focus from time to time.
Instead of viewing Leben through a prism of a drug addict, fighter, abuse victim, and a range of other jarring issues, The Crippler presents two options: fight or flight. From problems such as motivation to crying out for help, the author’s craft clearly carried the reader on Leben’s shoulder, following his decision-making process while preparing for his fights, deserting his station in the Army, accepting a low self-worth, as well as additional circumstances you must uncover for yourself.
The situations, personality, and sensationalism factoring into Leben’s contrastive qualities force readers’ eyes to continue feasting on page after page.
Who Is Chris Leben?
Peering in on Leben as the cover of a book, the antics and controversial headlines present a vibrant character. Immobilizing yourself into a favorite setting for reading, The Crippler delved deeper into a side of Leben shadowed from the public.
Typically, the image defining Leben as a fan favorite mixed martial artist was personified as his recollection of fighting Aaron Simpson at the TUF 11 Finale:
Not only was he looking to clinch and take me down, but he was willing—unlike most mortals (hehe)—to trade punches with me. And a couple of his straight right hands landed flush. But I ate them like cornflakes. After all, my head is harder than most fire hydrants. (p. 197)
Besides operating as a punishing force that hoisted fans from their seats, Leben possessed all the potential in the world, but, as demonstrated in his struggles, he didn’t believe himself worthy. One scene depicts a toxic relationship that Leben thought his already poisoned blood deserved.
Lisa was not just emotionally and verbally abusive, she was physically abusive. She actually beat me. Some people might think it is ridiculous that one of the toughest guys in the world would take beatings from a one-hundred pound girl. But, what was I supposed to do? Hit her back? No fucking way. So she punched me, and slapped me, and smacked me with household objects with impunity. And a big part of me—that part that hates who I am—felt like I deserved it. (p. 128)
The Crippler allowed readers who were familiar with Leben to dig below the hundreds of hours of tattoo ink, hair dye, nail polish, and gruff voice (an interesting story described in the book), and anyone else, who may have no recollection of his MMA history, will learn foundational life lessons unveiling Leben’s hyperbolic antics from one page to the next.
From page 1 to 232, my ability to tend to responsibility weakened under the excitement of another hair-raising account from Leben with Patinkin’s beautiful prose as a vessel. When Leben was scheduled for a UFC event, I was front and center, anxiously awaiting the bell to ring. On the flip side, when a stretch for reading became available, the TV’s power was cut, and I’d recline with The Crippler, awaiting Leben’s next predicament—which was a matter of when, not if. The Crippler deserves every ounce praise possible with five out of five stars.
In my opinion, the perfect close to this review infuses how The Crippler opened:
Regardless of my shortcomings (of which there are many), I can boldly and confidently claim that there has never been another human being who has experienced life quite the way I have. (p. viii)