Chris Leben was there as the UFC went from the underground to mainstream media, growing with it after competing on The Ultimate Fighter.
Now, the veteran sees a similar rise through the ranks for Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship, which is set to host event No. 5 on Saturday with Leben taking on Justin Baesman in one of the featured bouts.
“This is the fifth BKFC event and they’re really picking up momentum,” said Leben. “Word is getting out and everyone is starting to find out about BKFC. I’m glad to be a part of it. I wish I had been with them from the beginning, but I’m just happy to be on-board now.”
The card, which airs on pay-per-view from the Mississippi Coast Coliseum, is headlined by Artem Lobov battling Jason Knight.
Leben, who made his BKFC debut back in November with a first round knockout, continues to adjust his training and skills as he trains in San Diego at The Arena gym.
“Bare knuckle is very different from boxing. You can’t stand and take punches in bare knuckle,” added Leben. “You have to use more finesse. I’m focused on my footwork and using my angles to pick my spot wisely.
“I’m really embracing training camp at this point in my career. Every fight is the most important fight of my career. I’m not looking past anyone. I’m focused on April 6 and if everything goes well, I look forward to competing in BKFC for a while.
“I’m known for hitting hard and I know that my power is still there. It’s really just focusing on my movement. I’m always watching the different styles and angles of various fighters because I’m looking for my next setup or new ways that guys are moving. I’m a much better fighter now than when I was fighting in MMA.”
Leben’s opponent, Baesman, is a veteran of combat sports like himself. This, though, wil be his debut with BKFC.
“Baesman is a northern California guy who I’ve watched train before,” said Leben. “He’s fought a lot of tough fighters and he’s known for slugfests. He can take damage and is dangerous all the way until the end. I know he’s training like he never has before, so I’m taking him very seriously.”