Former Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le will be returning to action this Saturday, December 19th at Strikeforce: Evolution from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, CA.
Le, who recently relinquished his title to concentrate on a movie career – his latest flick, Pandorum, was released recently and another movie, Tekken, is due out soon — will be back in the cage for the first time since defeating Frank Shamrock on March 29, 2008. He will be facing former top contender to the Elite XC middleweight championship, “Hands of Steel” Scott Smith. Le recently took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about the fight this Saturday, as well as his thoughts on Jake Shields, why he returned, what’s next for him and more.
FightLine.com: A lot of people thought your MMA career was over after all the big movie projects you have been receiving. How does it feel to be getting ready to fight again after such a long layoff?
Cung Le: I definitely missed the feeling. Yeah, it’s been a long layoff, but I told my promoter [Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker] that if I’m not filming a movie, then I’ll be fighting. He’s definitely supported me in my film career after the Frank Shamrock fight, and now it’s my time to honor my word. I had a project that I should be filming right now, but it got pushed back until next year. So we sat down and talked, and they asked me to headline the event on Dec. 19 and I told them that I needed at least two weeks, you know, to see if I can get my timing and my conditioning and be OK with my trainer to give me the green light. I took the two weeks and now I’m back on Dec. 19th.
FightLine.com: How long have you been back training?
Le: Well, you know, by the time fight time comes around, it will have been eight weeks of training. But you know, before that I’m always training to get my fighters ready for fights. I’m not one of those guys who will sit on the sidelines and just yell. I’ll get in there and hold pads, wrestle with them and spar with them, and when I need a break, I’ll step out. Now it’s less breaks and more training.
FightLine.com: Have you noticed much ring rust now that you’re training full time for this fight?
Le: In practice, since I’m always doing it, the timing’s always on. It’s going to be close to 20 months since I fought inside the cage. How you perform in practice and how you perform in the cage are two different stories, you know? It’s not the same, so we’ll see when it comes to fight time how rusty I am or how sharp I am, we’ll have to see.
FightLine.com: You were undefeated as a kickboxer. How was the transition from kickboxing to MMA?
Le: It wasn’t that difficult because I had good people around me. I had Javier Mendez and a lot of guys from AKA helping me out. I also had a wrestling background, I was an All American in high school, All American in junior college, I wrestled year-round in freestyle and greco-roman. I think the hardest part was being comfortable on my back and being open-minded and learning the game of MMA from the ground, whether its submissions or ground-and-pound.
FightLine.com: Speaking of which, most of your fights have been standing. How would you rate your ground game?
Le: I have a decent ground game. Obviously my strong points are the standup, even the takedowns and the throws. I do what it takes to win, so if I have to go to the ground, which I’ve been to the ground a few times and got some ground-and-pound in there… you know, it’s not like people are going to come watch me and look for submissions and make it a ground battle. They come to watch me on my feet, that’s my strong point, so I’ve just got to keep it on my feet. You know, keep it simple and make the fans happy.
FightLine.com: In your last fight you defeated a legend in Frank Shamrock, what was it like in only your sixth fight to defeat a pioneer of the sport for the Strikeforce middleweight championship?
Le: That was probably the most exciting fight of my career. I didn’t think I’d get a shot so early, but Frank offered me the fight and I was game. I was more than prepared when I stepped in the cage against Frank, and it was definitely one of the highlights of my career.
FightLine.com: And it was after that when your acting career got started, right?
Le: Actually, I was filming movies before that, but I had small parts. You know, from working with Russian producers and directors, from working with David Carradine and Eric Roberts on a movie called Blizhniy Boy. I got a big fight part with Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard in the movie Fighting, and then filmed Tekken where I play Marshall Law. Then the big part came in Pandorum, and from there two Chinese movies came up and I spent most of my Christmas and the summer in China. It was definitely a great experience working with the Hollywood studio side and the Hong Kong studio side.
FightLine.com: Your next project got moved to next year and you took the Scott Smith fight. Do you plan to continue to juggle both MMA and your movie career?
Le: Well, I was doing it in the beginning when I first started my MMA career, just the parts have gotten bigger. You know, as the part gets bigger, the pay gets bigger. Coming back to MMA, for me, it’s because I’m a martial artist first. I love to compete in the MMA arena, and I want to do my best before I can’t do it anymore.
FightLine.com: While you were out, you were stripped of the Strikeforce middleweight title…
Le: Actually, I wasn’t stripped. On my own, I sat down with Scott Coker and we talked, and I said ‘it’s not fair for me to run off and do film with the title.’ At the time I had just gotten back from China, and it was a rough shoot. The last day was 24 hours and all the other days had no breaks. I told him that they might call me back, and I had to fulfill my obligations promoting Pandorum at Comic Con. I told him that there’s no way that I can defend my title, so I’m going to take a step back and vacate the title for all the middleweight contenders that are fighting on a regular basis, it’s only fair to them. I feel like these guys shouldn’t have to fight for an interim belt when I’m out doing movies. So I decided to vacate the title, in order for me to do both. So if the opportunity comes up where I’m not filming a movie, then I can get back in there.
FightLine.com: So the Strikeforce middleweight title is something you’re not looking to regain anytime soon?
Le: I’m going to take my time until I can have more time and dedicate myself. You know, fight after fight after fight, then I’ll look at making a run. But right now, everything happened so quick, but I’m back. It’s one fight but I know the fans were waiting for me and thought I wasn’t going to fight anymore because of the movies, but hey, I’m back. This one’s for the love of being a martial artist and competing, and the love of the fans too.
FightLine.com: If everything goes well, do you think you’ll be able to squeeze another fight in before your next movie starts?
Le: Either squeeze it before or after, we will definitely see. You know, right now let’s get this fight in the can, and hopefully I’m successful and we’ll work on the next one. You can’t think of the next one when you haven’t finished this one yet.
FightLine.com: You’ve got Scott Smith, who’s a really tough opponent, they definitely didn’t give you an easy fight for your comeback. He’s a really tough guy, he was fighting for the EliteXC middleweight title before they folded. He’s another guy who likes to stand and bang. What are some of the similarities between you and Smith, and what do you feel are the differences?
Le: There’s no giving up in Scott Smith, he’s going to fight you from the first second of the round to the last. He’s always dangerous and he’s got a lot of heart and he likes to stand up. I believe that I came from a traditional background, and he comes from a wrestling and boxing/MMA one. It’s definitely a good style matchup for the fans to watch a shootout standing up.
FightLine.com: Have you been preparing any differently for this bout than any of the ones in the past?
Le: Well, for every opponent you prepare and do something a little bit differently, and the training is a little bit more intense because he’s been more active and he’s got dangerous hands. You’ve just got to train a little bit differently for each opponent. But all in all, my intensity is always the same, I push the same. I think the only thing different is I’m listening to my body a little bit more, making sure that I don’t over-train. If he [Javier Mendez] needs to kick me out of the gym, then he’ll do that. He used to do that a lot when I was training for Frank Shamrock, but this time if he sees that I’m tired and I give him that look, then we call it.
FightLine.com: Are there any other fighters that you would like to face after facing Scott Smith?
Le: Whoever the promoter wants to put against me, that’s his job. My job’s just to go out there and prepare myself against whichever opponent they put me up against. It’s not my job, you know, Scott Coker puts together fights that fans want to see. So the question should be directed at Scott Coker. When he tells me who I’m going to fight, well then, that’s who I’m going to fight.
FightLine.com: Current Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields has recently been critical of you saying you’ve been ducking him. Have you ever been approached for a fight with Jake shields?
Le: No, I have never been approached for a fight with Jake Shields. Jake Shields needs to promote himself in whatever way he needs to promote himself and if he wants to use my name for more publicity, then he’s going to use my name. I’ve got thick skin, so he can say whatever he wants to say.
In the end, I come from a more traditional background, I’m more respectful so I don’t need to come across arrogant or calling people out saying that one fighter dodges another fighter. To me, a promoter comes and tells me who to fight, I fight… Scott Smith is no pushover. It’s not going to be an easy fight for me, so Jake Shields can say whatever he wants to say. Obviously he wants more publicity, I’m on the show, I’m in the main event. I’m just going to do my best to promote myself and Strikeforce in the best light possible that I can. I don’t need to talk about anyone to boost my career. My career is fine, I’m the one doing movies, I’m in the main event on this card… I’m the one with a lot of happy fans that I’m back now. So he can say whatever he wants to say.
FightLine.com: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Do you have any final comments for the readers of FightLine.com?
Le: Yes, I’m excited. I’d like to thank Scott Coker for promoting this fight and my trainer Javier Mendez for training me and getting me ready. I’d like to thank all of my fans worldwide, and my sponsors ADX, EA Sports, Zebra Matts, BR Flooring, High Octane energy, Knoxx and Zinkin entertainment. I’m very thankful for the sport and I’ll be ready to go on December 19th!