Chris Leben on heart condition that scrapped return in Bellator: “Basically, my heart is failing”

By Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief


Chris Leben’s hopes of returning to MMA in 2016 were dashed for medical reasons, as he failed several EKG tests before doctors determined that his heart was pumping at only 18% of where it should have been.

That issue scratched his move to Bellator MMA, and in an interview with’s Luke Thomas, he explained how concerned the doctors are about the issue.

“The doctors were like, ‘You don’t have a problem walking up these stairs?’ That’s the way they’re looking at it,” Leben commented. “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.

“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.”

Leben says he’s gotten some conflicting assessments from doctors, with at least one suggesting he may need a heart transplant, while another thinks his heart can recover somewhat over time. Regardless, his fighting career is almost certainly over.

Penick’s Analysis: The way Leben talks about his health it seems he wasn’t dealing with any symptoms to suggest this was an issue, so in a number of ways the ill-advised signing by Bellator could have saved him. That’s the positive to take out of this situation, because he found out a health issue he might not have known about otherwise.

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