Cung Le on his rematch with Scott Smith
by Gene Ching
On December 19th, 2009, Cung Le suffered a crushing defeat from the Hands of Steel. Sanshou’s brightest star was knocked out by Scott “Hands of Steel” Smith in the third round at STRIKEFORCE EVOLUTIONS at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, CA. It was his first MMA loss. Cung describes the fight. “Basically, I was dominating for two and a half rounds, and I should have listened to my corner and just picked my shots at the end. But in the end, I got a little bit greedy and looked for the knock out, which is the cardinal sin. The cardinal rule is: don’t look for the knock out. Let it come naturally. I didn’t do that. I used up all the gas in the tank and then I was looking for the takedown – come underneath his punches and go for the double leg. Instead he faked like he was going to rush in with a straight cross. And then when I ducked down, I ducked right into his short hook. I went down – took my temple and my nose. Then I stood right back up right away. I should have stayed down but instead I got up and didn’t see that big right hand coming in. Got caught again and I went down and he finished me with punches on the ground.”
On June 26th, 2010, Cung is looking for revenge against Smith in STRIKEFORCE: FEDOR VS. WERDUM, once again at the HP Pavilion. FEDOR VS. WERDUM is co-promoted by STRIKEFORCE and M-1 Global, and brings one of the world’s top MMA champions, Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko to San Jose, as well as the leading female champion, Cris “Cyborg” Santos, and outstanding STRIKEFORCE champion, Josh Thompson, to the cage. The fight will be broadcast live on SHOWTIME®. Tickets were still available the week of the fight
Cung returns to the cage with a lot on his mind. On Monday, June 21, just five days before the fight, his third son, Robert Eric Le, was born. It’s his first child by his second wife, Suzanne. They were married last August, just a few months prior to his last meeting with Smith. What’s more, Cung’s film career has taken off in Asia. He’s just starred in two of Chollywood’s biggest Chinese New Year blockbusters, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, which is receiving accolades in select film festivals in America, and TRUE LEGEND, master choreographer Yuen Woo Ping’s return to the director chair. He’s also signed to star in his own movie vehicle, BREAKING POINT. “It’s going to be filmed in Vietnam,” reveals Cung. “I haven’t really put any thoughts in it because I’ve been focused on this fight. I actually have three other projects going too, but right now, it’s all about this fight.” Cung is tight-lipped about the other two projects for now. As martial arts films are often about revenge, the reality is that Cung has his sights on Smith for some major payback. “This time around, I learned more from this loss than all my wins and I’m ready to apply everything I learned…Hats off to Scott Smith. He caught me. That was the last fight. That was last year. This is a new year. This is a new fight. And I’m amped for this fight. I’m ready.”
Through film, Cung has achieved a level of celebrity status that no other MMA champion has enjoyed. Despite countless MMA champions, none have penetrated film like Cung. There have been a lot of MMA champs starring in direct-to-video films, but few in theatrical releases. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson just took over the role of B.A. Baracas in THE A-TEAM, which was pummeled on its opening weekend by Jackie Chan’s THE KARATE KID in the box office. But beyond Rampage, no other MMA champion has really succeeded on the silver screen.
Many question Cung’s ability to maintain an MMA career and a movie career at the same time. “Actually in the beginning, I was able to go back and forth because my parts were not as big - two weeks here, another week there. But after a long layoff travelling to Germany, and then Beijing and back to Shanghai, there’s a big difference. For me, I love to train. You can’t keep me out of a gym. I’ll go in there and train but that’s to keep myself in shape. When you train as a fighter, basically, your hands get soft, your shins get soft, after two years. I definitely felt the difference.”
Movie stardom puts Cung in a unique position. With the rising Asian film market, it’s fertile ground for Cung, especially as he’s pushing 40. Few MMA fighters continue to compete for so long. “I’m sure any other fighters, if they’re in the position that I am, I’m not sure they would make the same decision to come back to fight. I did because I’m a martial artist first. I love to compete. I love to do martial arts. I can’t do it forever. I’m 38 years old, even though I feel like I’m 28. Some mornings when I get up I’m sore like a 38-year-old, but I’m just happy that I’m part of the MMA game. I’ve been blessed with good people around me. I’ve had a great career in sanshou and even in MMA. My best fight ever was against Frank Shamrock. He brought the best out of me. I’m here today. I’m back in the cage in a couple days. I’m just excited to wake up everyday. I feel blessed.” But for now, Cung’s film career is, as he puts it succinctly, “on hold.” Saturday’s fight is all about settling the score, as well as championing sanshou in MMA once more.
Cung hopes that when he inevitably retires from MMA, other sanshou champions will take up the banner in the cage. Sanshou champion Patrick Barry has had some success in the UFC. And ironically, kung fu promoter Zhong Luo is staging an amateur MMA fight, Dragon House MMA, on the same night as STRIKEFORCE: FEDOR VS. WERDUM at the Kezar in San Francisco. However, sanshou is disproportionately underrepresented in MMA today. “I hope there will be more. Out of my team, there’s Thomas Diagne and James Terry that are signed with STRIKEFORCE. Thomas will be fighting on July 23rd in Spokane on TV. He’s a big time sanshou fighter. James is an up and coming fighter and also a sanshou fighter. So we’re going to represent sanshou.”
STRIKEFORCE: FEDOR VS. WERDUM is one more chance for Cung to show the world what sanshou can offer to the arsenal of MMA techniques. Where most fighters would have happily jumped ship long before and crossed over to making movies, Cung still wants to fight. “The reason why I’m here is because of my traditional martial arts and my MMA career. I want to do it until I can’t do it anymore. Because of the movies, it’s getting a little bit tougher. You know, after a loss like that, I can’t go out that way. I got to come in a take care of business. I plan to take care of business on the 26th and after that focus on the movies again.”
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