Former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cung Le is one of the most recognizable figures in mixed martial arts.
The Vietnamese American fighter possesses some of the most dynamic striking the sport has ever seen thanks to his unique San Shou fighting style. All six of his victories have came via (T)KO and he was well on his way to his seventh before he was caught late in the third round and finished by Scott Smith last December on Strikeforce: Evolution.
Returning from a twenty-one month layoff from action, Le dominated virtually every second of his return bout before falling victim to Smith's dynamite punching power late in the fight. Now back on track, and with mixed martial arts his first priority, Le is prepared and driven to get back to his winning ways.
Speaking exclusively with Bleacher Report, Le talked about his most recent fight with Scott Smith, when he'll be fighting next, and gives his thoughts on both Frank Shamrock and current Middleweight Champion Jake Shields.
B/R: The last time we saw you in action was last December against Scott Smith, was the time away from the sport too much to overcome?
Cung Le: I have to say, I don’t think my timing was that off. The conditioning on my hands definitely was not there because when I was grounding and pounding him, I hit him a couple of times in the forehead and I thought I broke my hand. It wasn’t broken but it was pretty messed up after the fight but I take nothing away from him.
I think what happened was I got a little over excited and I was trying to do too much. I was trying for another big throw and obviously the throw when I picked him up and slammed him he hit up against the fence and he stood back up.
It wasn’t like a super throw like I usually get with San Shou but that took a lot out of me. Instead of trying to recover I was trying to shoot and get another big throw just because I wanted to go out guns blazing and leave it all out there and it backfired on me. He dipped and caught me with a perfect placed punch. For two and a half rounds he never hit me with anything solid.
B/R: The question everyone wants to know is when can we expect to see Cung Le back in action and who’s the opponent you want to fight?
Cung Le: I know I’m set to go in June, I heard that there’s supposed to be two big fights in June, what my position will be as the co-main or main event I don’t know. I don’t care, I just want to get back in there and I want to get my rematch with Scott Smith before any other fight. I’ve turned down three or four movie projects because I want to get right back in there and fight. I want to get that fight with Scott Smith.
B/R: Frank Shamrock has stated that he wants a rematch with you. If he signed on for a rematch how do you see Le-Shamrock II playing out?
Cung Le: The funny thing is me, Frank Shamrock, Dan Henderson, Josh Thompson, Gilbert Melendez, and KJ Noons were on the set of NCIS. I asked Frank, “when are you planning to fight again?” and Frank said, “I’m planning on fighting you in June.”
It kind of threw me off and Frank said, “wouldn’t you rather fight me?” I said I’d rather fight Scott Smith. Frank said, “I’ve got the bigger name and our fight was the best fight of 2008 so we might have to do it again.” When Frank talks sometimes you just have to let it go in one ear and out the other.
Frank's last performance against Nick Diaz wasn’t that great of a performance. I don’t know what Frank will show up but I know what Cung Le will show up. I think he underestimated Nick Diaz and he took a beating.
Even though he said he was injured I don’t take Frank's word on that, I just think Nick was the way better fighter that night. Frank can talk all he wants but I’ll be prepared for whichever they want me to fight. If the fight's in San Jose between me and Frank, we could definitely pack out that stadium.
B/R: What can we expect when Cung Le is back in action next? Are you going to be more dynamic and ferocious to finish fights?
Cung Le: I plan to come out being smart but to go in there open up and have that killer mentality. I plan to be more dynamic and people know when I fight that they’re getting a awesome fight. This time around they can know I’m ready to go, I’m excited and I can’t wait. I hope they get Scott Smith, the goal is to get in there and let my kicks fly.
B/R: Speaking of being in action next, Jake Shields has his last fight on his contract the 17th, he’s expressed his opinions about you. Are you going to be upset if he decides to depart from Strikeforce?
Cung Le: Those things don’t really bother me, with Jake, if that’s the way he has to express himself to gain more fans or to talk himself up then that’s how he does it. I’m a traditional martial artist and I’m always going to carry myself in the most respectful way I can.
Everyone has their own little thing and if he wants to be that person then I’ll let him be that kind of person. Whether he leaves or not he definitely has his hands full with Dan Henderson. If Scott Coker says, “Cung you’re fighting Jake Shields,” then I would say yes, I will fight Jake Shields. He’s the promoter and he’s the one who pays me, when it comes to business then it's business.
B/R: How do you see Shields vs. Henderson playing out in a few short weeks on CBS?
Cung Le: It’s not that great of a match up for him [Shields] and this is how I can break it down: Dan has better stand-up, Dan has better wrestling, Jake does have a good wrestling background but he doesn’t have the level of Dan Henderson. He could get Dan down but at the same time can you hold him down?
Jake’s jiu-jitsu is really good and that’s his strong point but if he can’t get Dan down then he’s in for a long night or a quick one. Dan is one of those guys that has a lot of confidence and he’s not going to go in there and be gun shy.
B/R: Can the fans expect to see you at the event in Nashville on the 17th or are you staying in San Jose to train?
Cung Le: If Strikeforce wants me to go out there then I’ll be out there. Whatever they want me to do and I can pretty much train on the road. I’m one of those fighters that the coaches don’t have to worry about me not training. The coach is usually there to make sure I’m not over trained. Since this last fight, I’ve been going hard and I’m going to be sharp come June. I’ll be ready.”
B/R: With your fight against Scott Smith in June hopeful, how often are you looking to fight this year?
Cung Le: I was trying to get in there for April but obviously the card is mainly title fights and it didn’t work out but If I fought in May then I wouldn’t be able to fight at home. I would love to fight at home because the fans are amazing but there are great fans everywhere. I turned down two projects and I care about all my fans. After my last fight I want them to be able to see me come back from that against Scott Smith and be rejuvenated. I definitely want to have more fights this year and it all comes down to Scott Coker.
B/R: Speaking of Scott, he and yourself appear to be a great relationship. How close are the two of you and how did you two meet?
Cung Le: “Scott’s been a friend of mine for a long time, I was on a pay per view in LA and that’s where he saw me. A couple of weeks after that he signed me to fight on ESPN 2 and we started our relationship in 1998 and I’ve been fighting for him since. He’s been a big supporter of everything I’ve done.
We definitely have a very strong relationship and when I was the 185lb. champ back then he was able to secure the deal with Showtime. Then he said, “Cung, I supported you through your movie career so just let me know what you want to do."
That’s when I decided that I wanted to do a couple more projects. I was able to work with some well known producers in China so I vacated the belt. I finished those projects early and I was supposed to have another one start but that director wasn’t available so I figured I wanted to jump back in there and live up to my word that I would fight for Scott Coker so I did that in December.
I’ve backed up projects since then to stay in fight shape so I can hopefully do my thing against Scott Smith. I just want to be focused and when the smoke clears we’ll see who’s still standing this time.
For more information regarding Le follow me on Twitter @JoshDCarey & visit his site www.cungle.com