Photo Credit: Kevin Blake
After winning the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship over Frank Shamrock in March, Cung Le had chosen to spend his time in the acting arena rather than the world of MMA.
With Le's eyes focused on the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, the brass at Strikeforce felt they had no choice but to strip Le of his title.
After filming was pushed back in his latest endeavor, the newly uncrowned middleweight king decided to return to his roots to don a pair of gloves and return to combat against Scott "Hands of Steel" Smith.
With the event, as well as Le, being based in San Jose, CA, it was to be expected that Le and his return to the cage would garner the spotlight, while Smith seemed to be relegated to a supporting role in this production.
During a national conference call, it was Le who was fielding around three questions for every one that was asked of Smith.
There was a media workout the week of the event that featured both Le and now-former lightweight champion Josh Thomson. Smith was nowhere to be found.
And during the actual fight this past Saturday night at the HP Pavilion, the hype around Le—and the dismissal of Smith as nothing more that a stepping stone back to the title—almost seemed justified.
Prior to signing for the fight with Le, the 30-year-old veteran of Elk Grove, CA was coming off of a submission loss to Nick Diaz in June. While he is indeed known as "Hands of Steel," it could be argued that his striking simply wasn't in the same class as that of Le.
That argument can no longer be made.
For two-and-a-half rounds, Scott Smith took everything that Cung Le had to offer. He found himself on the receiving end of some absolutely devastating kicks delivered by Le. Some were blocked, some pushed him back, and some knocked him to the ground, but they all achieved their desired effect.
Smith came dangerously close to having referee "Big" John McCarthy stop the bout in the first round, as Le worked the ground-and-pound while having Smith pinned up against the cage.
Just when it appeared that Big John had seen enough, Smith somehow managed to get back to his feet and survive the round.
While Le continued to dominate most of the fight, his 21 months away from the cage became glaringly obvious as his breathing became visibly heavier and his lethal kicks didn't quite have as much on them.
With time running out, Smith was in dire need of a miracle if he was going to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time in his career.
The miracle came in the form of a huge left hand that sent Le reeling. It was a shot that he couldn't quite shake off.
With a sense of urgency and glimmer of hope, Smith let his hands go and crashed bomb after bomb onto the defenseless Le, wishing he had a stunt double.
With just 95 ticks left in the bout, Big John McCarthy had decided he'd seen enough, and called a halt to the bout, giving Smith the biggest win of his career and dealing Le his first loss as a professional fighter.
At the age of 37, no one could blame Cung Le if he chose to walk away from the bumps and bruises of the sport to pursue a lucrative career in film.
Just don't expect the same from Scott "Hands of Steel" Smith.
His career will bring him right back into the cage, where he'll continue to write his own Hollywood ending.
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