It’s good to be Cung Le nowadays. The former Strikeforce middleweight champ has transitioned nicely into life in the UFC, and in November he headlined a UFC on Fuel TV installment in Macau, where he knocked out former champ Rich Franklin. Add to that his burgeoning film career and impromptu grappling matches with A-list actor Channing Tatum that make the tabloids go nuts, and you might say that Le is living the dream.
Rebellion Media caught up with Le to get a little insight into what makes the amiable 185-pound fighter tick. How did he become a martial artist? What was the impetus behind his first MMA bout? Read on.
How did you end up training in martial arts?
“After getting beat up several times when I was very young, and getting bullied, my mom put me into Tae Kwon Do, and that was my start in the martial arts.”
Was the transition from accomplished San Shou competitor to MMA fighter difficult?
“The transition [into MMA] wasn’t that tough because of my wrestling background. I wrestled freestyle, Greco-Roman and collegiate wrestling. I really enjoy training and learning, and the transition was actually fun.”
How did your first MMA fight come about?
“I was with Scott Coker for my kickboxing and my San Shou career as a professional. When he decided to go and do his first event in 2006, he wanted me to be the co-main event. I was definitely excited about it, and I gave it a shot. Thank goodness that happened.”
How did you feel when Strikeforce closed its doors forever?
“I was sad. I’m not going to lie. I was definitely sad. I had a long history with Strikeforce, and was a former Strikeforce middleweight champ, and I know how much hard work Scott Coker put into it. It’s hard to put into words, but I think Scott Coker, he did good for the sport, and I respect everything he’s done for the sport and for me.”
How do you like fighting in the UFC?
“I feel blessed to be part of the UFC. I really enjoy fighting for the UFC.”
You’ve been in a number of movies, including last year’s “The Man with the Iron Fists”. How do you balance acting with fighting?
“At first it was easy to balance doing movies and fighting, but now it’s a lot more difficult since my roles are getting bigger and I’m away for longer periods of time. It definitely takes away from training. Not everyone understands that when you’re on the set, you have 15 hours of work. And when you’re on set all day, you have to make sure that you’re at a certain weight, you have to be in character or be prepared for what the next day brings, what scenes you’re about to do, who you’re about to do it with. There’s rehearsals on top of being on set for long hours, and a lot of time you don’t have that chance to train – even if it just getting a simple cardio workout in for 20 minutes. It’s like, as soon as you’re done you’re so exhausted, and when you get back you just crash out.”
Have you ever encountered any problems on movie sets because you’re an accomplished fighter?
“I haven’t had any problems because I’m a fighter with stuntmen or anyone else. I have no issues. I probably had one guy I didn’t get along with, so I just steered clear of him and stayed away from any problems.”
Who’s the toughest actor you’ve ever worked with?
“There have been several actors. Donnie Yen’s real tough. He goes out there and goes for it. Channing Tatum is very athletic. He definitely goes after it, and isn’t scared to get hit. A movie that we did together he got hit, and it was fine. It’s just a small handful of actors who are that physical and that intense to go after it.”
Who was your toughest opponent in MMA?
“I would say Frank Shamrock. He just didn’t go down, and even after I broke his arm, he still tried to fight me with a broken arm. He was just tough. It was one of those fights that, you know styles make fights, and he knew that the spin-kicks were coming and he caught me off guard a few times when I tried to do the spin-kicks. He threw me down in the opening round, and I got back on the spin-kicks and just started chipping away at him. I was trying for his face, but he kept blocking it and I broke his arm.”
Your last fight in the Octagon took place in the UFC’s first trip to Macau. How was that experience?
“It was such a great experience – the fans, the people, it was so new to them and they were so excited. It was just a great experience, especially with the big win.”
There was video floating around of you and opponent Franklin laughing and joking around before your fight. Was it hard getting into the cage with someone you seemed to get along with so well?
“I have a lot of respect for Rich Franklin. He’s a great guy, great competitor, and former UFC champion. I believe it’s just a matter of time before he’s in the UFC Hall of Fame. And I believe the sport should be that way, and it should be professional and you should have as much fun as you want before a fight, and when the Octagon door closes it’s time to take care of business. After that, whoever is the better man should be buying the chocolate or the sweets.”
What did Franklin say to you after your fight?
“He just congratulated me and said ‘good job’. I told him, ‘Thank you for the opportunity.’ He’s got such a great attitude and I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Tune in tomorrow for part two, where Le talks about returning to his native Vietnam, and the possibility of facing UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva.