Cung Le and UFC Bias Against Strikeforce Champions

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Cung Le and UFC Bias Against Strikeforce Champions

Cung Le, hobbled on one foot and a heavy underdog, shocked the world in a first-round knockout of former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin at UFC: Macao.

Even though nothing about this outcome should shock anyone.

One would think Le would be shown a bit more respect for his past accomplishments as a Strikeforce middleweight champion (who was undefeated in his first run, mind you) than to be ranked as such an underdog against Rich Franklin, who up to this point was 1-1 in a two-year period (similar to Cung).

Cung Le is coming off a Fight of the Night award for his UFC 139 meeting with Wanderlei Silva and a total dissection of Patrick Cote at UFC 148. Franklin's loss in 2011 was against everyone's favorite journeyman, Forest Griffen. Nevertheless, Franklin bounced back with a unanimous decision win over the aforementioned Wanderlei Silva.

So Cung Le's record isn't any worse and he and Franklin are a lot more even than oddsmakers, fans and even the UFC itself seemed willing to admit.

Which begs the question, why was Le ever considered such an underdog?

The only reason anyone seems to have for this discrepancy is that Franklin was a UFC champion, while Le was only a Strikeforce champion. This is ridiculous.

First, it is understood that Le's competition in Strikeforce wasn't the best of the best. He went 6-0 with the only notable name on that record being an aging Frank Shamrock, who he defeated in a now-legendary fight for the middleweight belt. But Le was the champion, and that shouldn't be taken lightly.  He is also a highly decorated champion kickboxer who went 17-0 from 1997 to 2005 before moving to MMA.

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If anyone assumes his ability is somehow truncated by the mainstream accessibility of the promotions he worked for, then they're insane.

Le is a fighter. This is evident when you consider he is 40 years old with a budding film career and thus has no real reason to risk his life and livelihood every time he steps into the cage. Yet he does, frequently, against the best competition UFC matchmakers decide to throw at him. This competitive fire speaks to the true nature of who Le is and why he shouldn't be undersold.

Yet he and fellow former Strikeforce champions continue to be undervalued, simply because of where they won their belts. Frankie Edgar, former lightweight UFC champion, suffered two losses in a row, yet he was immediately rewarded with a future featherweight title shot against Jose Aldo in February.  Meanwhile, Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem needed to be "tested" against Brock Lesnar before he could even attempt a title shot.

Consider Nick Diaz, who left Strikeforce as its welterweight champion. He signed with the UFC, not for a title shot at its champion, but for a very dangerous fight with BJ Penn—a fight he very well could've lost, thus kicking him out of contention. Former WEC golden boy Urijah Faber, on the other hand, seems to get a title shot whenever he bats his eyelashes at the Zuffa brass.

Strikeforce champions like Cung Le are being wasted if they are not immediately in some form of contention for title shots. This knockout by Le proves that. Hopefully, UFC recognizes his past accomplishments as more than a gatekeeper's accessories and pushes him up the ladder, which is where he belongs. 

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