Back home after a triumphant ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, Robby LeBlanc didn't expect to receive the ultimate compliment at the UFC Fan Expo on Saturday.
He stopped at the booth of a former champion, "a friend who knew me," LeBlanc said.
"He said, 'What have you been doing?' I told him I just got back from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro."
The comment caught the ex-champ by surprise.
"Dude," said the UFC star, who's name LeBlanc isn't giving up, "you are an official badass. I had to quit after three days."
That, said LeBlanc, his voice breaking, "just blew me away."
His emotions still raw from "the most amazing week of my life," LeBlanc lost his composure and fought back tears at least a dozen times during a 20-minute telephone interview.
No one said it would be easy, but the 52-year-old diabetic professional musician had underestimated the magnitude of the challenge he faced.
LeBlanc, who was 289 pounds about 10 days ago when he started up Africa's tallest peak at 19,341 feet, had to slog through hell to get to cloud nine.
Reality hit him in the face on Day One. His 15-member group caught the tail end of the rainy season, and their vehicles got stuck in mud three miles from the starting point in the jungle.
Ten minutes after passing the official starting location, LeBlanc lost his footing in a slide area and was grabbed just before going over a 100-foot drop.
"Believe me it went downhill and uphill from there," said LeBlanc, who has opened for such entertainers as Al Jarreau, Arlo Guthrie and Glenn Frey and The Eagles.
On Day Two he got sick and was too fatigued upon reaching camp to go on a mandatory two-hour climb to get acclimated to the altitude.
His mentor said the climb was over if LeBlanc didn't take part, so he took a power nap and completed the necessary trip.
Every night for a full week, LeBlanc was the last group member to enter camp, usually two hours behind the rest. But even as he straggled, he was greeted by rousing applause from his group and up to 150 others as the mountain traffic grew.
Day Five was the worst. LeBlanc discovered he had a fear of heights, shortly after beginning a 500-foot vertical drop.
He had "a total meltdown" that lasted four hours. To continue he had to leap from a ledge to a rock. He was paralyzed with fear.
"I was totally terrified, crying my eyes out. It challenged my faith and my commitment. It was the scariest thing I've ever done."
But he found the strength to continue, coaxed on inch by inch by his team. It would take 14 hours to reach camp that night.
By Day Six, they were so high his water bottles were frozen every morning. Potty trips in the 20-below darkness were nightmarish.
On Day Seven, they reached the high camp, about 2,000 feet short of the top, but a height that technically qualifies as a summit, he said.
Hearing the words "you did it" from his peers triggered emotions so strong that he broke down telling the story.
What drove him upward?
"I had to do it. I just had to know I had that inside me."
At UFC 148 Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden, LeBron James, Michael Irvin, actor Channing Tatum, and soccer stars Kaka, Frank Lampard and Ronaldo. ... James, arriving at Marquee (Cosmopolitan) Friday with an entourage that included his personal DJ. They celebrated in the Boombox Room. ... UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, dining at Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill (MGM Grand) on Saturday. ... R&B singer and producer Jason Derülo, attending "Celine" (Caesars Palace) with "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks on Friday. They dined at Rao's (Caesars) with friends. ... Jokesters Brad Garrett and Kevin Nealon, backstage after Donny & Marie Osmond's show at the Flamingo on Friday. ... Former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, the all-time knockouts champ and Hall of Famer, at N9ne Steakhouse (Palms) on Friday.
"George Clooney says he's had sex with too many women to ever run for office. He was immediately made prime minister of Italy.'' - Conan O'Brien