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UFC: Injured Cung Le Represents a Catch-22 for Zuffa's Desperate China Debut

Jul. 7, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC fighter Cung Le (right) punches Patrick Coto during a middleweight bout in UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
McKinley NobleCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2017

Once again, the injury bug has struck a UFC headliner. But this time, caution is being thrown to the wind as Cung Le is vowing to face Rich Franklin anyway.

Under normal circumstances, this fight wouldn't be happening.

In the last year alone, several main-event fighters have been declared unfit to compete with ailments varying from strained elbows to torn knee ligaments. And yet, Le has spent his training camp suffering from a broken foot, meaning he'll enter the Octagon in Macau at a distinct disadvantage.

As Le recently told MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour, the pain is bad enough that he regularly hurts himself practicing his signature kicks:

I've kicked a couple of training partners in the head and that hurt, but was OK. I'm hoping by fight time I'll be 100 percent. Definitely, if this fight wasn't in Macau, China, even if I was in a main event somewhere else, I'd give myself the right amount of time so my foot could really heal. I feel like martial arts basically started from China and my roots are the Chinese martial arts. This is why I do it.

With so many main events falling apart in 2012, you can bet that Dana White and the UFC brass are secretly glad that Le is "toughing it out" for the fans. And realistically, there's nothing else that they can do but silently cross their fingers.

It's extremely irresponsible on the part of everyone involved, and the situation drastically favors Franklin, who seems as healthy as ever.

But what choice does Zuffa have?

Regardless of the fact that the former Strikeforce middleweight champion is a South Vietnamese-born American, Le is the best draw that the UFC has for Macau right now.

With some star power generated from roles in American and Chinese films, a bronze-medal effort at the 1999 World Wushu Championships in Hong Kong, plus his track record as an undefeated kickboxing competitor, he's pretty much the only man in the UFC who's tailor-made to headline a card in the Chinese region.

Additionally, the MMA scene isn't exactly brimming with Chinese talent. One-dimensional submission specialist Zhang Tiequan is the only Chinese-born fighter in the UFC roster, but limps into the bottom of the main card with a disappointing 1-3 record in his last four fights.

On paper, the rest of the night looks rather weak, a typical symptom of the UFC's recent events. From bottom to top, the main card and preliminaries are filled with a lot of matches that seem like potential "loser-leaves-town" fights. Aside from the headliner, only Thiago Silva vs. Stanislav Nedkov and Dong Hyun Kim vs. Paulo Thiago carry any major interest.

If Le turns up injured, the UFC's first event in the China is essentially wasted.

But for his own good, Le should've pulled out of the fight weeks ago.

Either way, it's a no-win situation—and due to corporate pressure, a potential bonus check for company loyalty or perhaps just stubborn pride, the UFC is willingly letting an injured man walk into a cage to face one of the middleweight division's most well-rounded strikers.

Le should be mindful of whether or not his decision will wind up turning his foot injury into a career-ending catastrophe. As long as he shows up to fight, it's pretty clear that his employers aren't terribly concerned.

[McKinley Noble is an MMA conspiracy theorist and FightFans Radio writer. His work has appeared in GamePro, Macworld and PC World. Talk with him on Twitter.]

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