Undefeated in his decorated career as a professional fighter, compiling a record of 22-0 in kickboxing and 17-0 during Sanshou competition, Cung Le took the world of mixed martial arts by storm following his debut in early 2006, winning all six of his bouts fought under the Strikeforce banner by knockout, and capturing the promotion’s middleweight championship in the process. Cung’s own description of his fighting career sums it up perfectly, “I’ve been successful in everything I’ve done.”
This is why there were more than a few experts and fans alike that had very good reason to believe that the sky was the limit for the freshly crowned, and seemingly unstoppable 185 pound title holder. There was a certain energy surrounding Cung following his arm shattering beatdown of MMA legend Frank Shamrock to claim the Strikeforce crown. An energy that dwindled and lost steam in the mixed martial arts community as the championship sat undefended for months and months to come.
All the while, Le has been busier than ever before in his career spent punching and kicking grown men about the skull and torso. Busy stringing together an impressive resume in Hollywood, recently appearing in Fighting alongside Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard prior to this week’s September 25 release of Pandorum, with Tekken slated to come out later this year.
This is where the second side to the story comes in. As Cung recently revealed in an exclusive interview conducted with FiveOuncesOfPain.com in the days following his resignation as the Strikeforce middleweight champion, a plaguing elbow injury suffered prior to the title fight with Shamrock required a tremendous amount of rehabilitation following the bout. A rehabilitation process the injured elbow is still undergoing to this day.
Le stepping down as the Srikeforce middleweight champion just made sense for all involved due to the current situation. Cung put it best when he said, “It was the honorable thing to do”.
Do you feel like your career in mixed martial arts can be given a fair amount of credit for your fast rise in the movie industry?
Cung Le: I definitely credit MMA, and the popularity of MMA, for the opportunities I’ve had to just walk into these big studios and meet these movie executives because half of them were fans of the sport. They wanted to meet with me because of my past in the sport, and then of course they want to know if I can act. A lot of people don’t realize that when you’re a fighter, you’re going to have a lot of fans, from the top executives from Warner Bros., Universal, and other major companies in Hollywood. If you go in there, they’re going to be a fan, but if they know that you can deliver, and that you can act, a lot of big and wonderful things can happen for you in your career in the entertainment business.
Do you also feel, on the other side of that coin, do you feel like you’re giving back to the sport to some degree by all the press the sport is getting through you being in movies?
Cung Le: I believe that I have given back to the sport because this is going be a bigger market. A lot of people follow MMA, but then there’s a whole lot of other people that don’t follow MMA at all, but everyone goes and watches movies. I think that after people see me in movies, they may end up doing a little bit of research and they’ll be like, “Wow! He fights MMA”.
Can you talk to me about some of the reasons behind your motivation to step down as the Strikeforce middleweight champion?
Cung Le: You know, from my heart, I feel like the opportunity that I have received from MMA and being able to work on films has prevented me from defending my title. I’ve been off doing other things for seventeen months now, and I feel like it doesn’t serve the top middleweight contenders in Strikeforce justice when I’m out doing something else that isn’t their opportunity. I understand that this is my opportunity. I think that for me to take a step back was the honorable thing to do. I wanted to give those guys a chance to fight for the title. Not everyone gets the kind of opportunities that I get, so I have to not be selfish, and take a step back, and do the right thing, which is to vacate the title.
So with you stepping away from your championship belt, are you also stepping away from the sport as a competitor?
Cung Le: Just because I vacate the title does not mean that I’m retiring. I still love the sport, and I plan on getting back in thee and maybe doing a superfight here and there. If everything’s firing on all cylinders maybe I’ll take another run at the title again, but right now I think this is the best, and the most honorable thing to do.
Now I heard that before you fought Frank Shamrock for the title that you had an injury that you needed surgery on following the fight. What can you tell me about that injury and the rehabilitation process that has followed it?
Cung Le: Well I had elbow surgery before. It ended up taking me like six weeks of rehab before I could get back in there and train. I though that it was just a bone spur that may have been pinching the nerve or something. When I came out from being under during the surgery I was like, ‘Wow!’, you know, I felt weird because I had been under before and I was just so out of it. My surgeon told me that it went from a minor surgery to a major surgery because my bone spurt was sticking into a major nerve. So he had to move the nerve out of the way, shave the bone down, and just kind of push the nerve back into the pocket. I remember he told me that I was going to have to rehab it for at least three months, and I was like, ‘Wow!’, you know. Then two weeks later Frank Shamrock wanted to offer me the fight, and my trainer was telling me that I might not get this opportunity again. So I’m working around my injury preparing for the fight, and I got in there and I pulled it off. Right now I’m healing up. I’m at least at 85% right now. I try to keep myself in the best shape I can in case something comes up, then I won’t be that far off from getting back in shape.
I think there are a lot of people that may not realize that outside of the opportunities that came your way in film, you physically couldn’t fight after the Shamrock bout for a large chunk of time.
Cung Le: I physically couldn’t fight in the beginning. A lot of people don’t realize, they think that Strikeforce has been around for so long that they forget that Strikeforce put on their first show of this year in April, Frank Shamrock vs. Nick Diaz, and all of a sudden right after that they were expecting a title fight to come up right away. I thought it was kind of stupid.
In the back of your mind, you have to sit back and wonder how you would do against some of the top guys in the division like Anderson Silva, Nate Marquardt, or even Jake Shields. Is that hunger still there in your stomach? Do you get that burn when you’re watching fights where you just want to get back in there?
Cung Le: You know, maybe I’m different than some of the other fighters, but that burn that I have in my stomach is just to challenge myself. it doesn’t matter who I go in there against. I’ve been competing for a long time. Since 1994 as an amateur, and I turned pro in 98. I fought professionally in Sanshou and Kickboxing until 2005 before I turned to MMA in 2006. I’ve had a long career, where I’ve represented the United States in the World Championships, and I was the only American to bring home three different medals from three different world championships, along with winning other titles in Sanshou and kickboxing, and now in MMA, I’ve been successful in everything I’ve done. It’s just that a lot of people don’t realize that I’ve been a competitor my entire life, so that fire is always there for me. At the same time, I know that sometimes you just have to take a step back, and let yourself recover, and just kind of re-energize for when you take that next step, and get ready to walk back inside of the cage or ring again. I’ve been doing this for a very long time.
I can totally understand that, but you see the same question come up with a guy like Fedor for example. Is it a situation where you’ve just been dominant for so long at what you’ve been doing that you don’t really feel like you’re being challenged anymore?
Cung Le: No, I challenge myself. I’ve always been a competitor, I’ve always loved the martial arts, and I always try to represent myself well. I know that people have high expectations of me, but they’re not the ones doing it. They’re not the ones putting in the time. They’re not the ones that are going through the hardships, the ups and downs, so they really don’t understand. They just have a tunnel vision thought process about certain things. They call it the way they think it should be, but they don’t really understand. I’m not done yet. I’ll be back. I’m just doing the best that I can do to make the right decisions. I’m not in it for the short haul, I’m in it for the long haul. I have to do the right thing, not only for the fans and the promotion, but I have to do the right thing for myself, and my family too.
Fair enough. I can respect that. I have to ask you, is Anthony Johnson going to be the guy to beat Georges St. Pierre?
Cung Le: The only fear I have with Anthony Johnson is him being able to make 170 pounds. Every time he comes back for the next fight he’s bigger and just putting on more muscle. He’s really putting his time in right now, trying different things, and I really feel like the sky is the limit for Anthony Johnson. I think he’s just really big for the weight, and I know it’s a very hard cut for him. He has all the talent, and everything it takes to beat anyone, but when you have to make that drastic of a cut in weight leading into a fight, you’re not even the same person. I think he could be competitive at 185, but he likes to fight at 170 because he’s bigger than most of those guys, so that’s why he does it. I think that he has all of the potential in the world to do whatever it takes.
Of course, a question a lot of fans want to know; Is there any chance we’re gonna see Cung Le fight in the UFC before it’s all said and done?
Cung Le: I have a lot of respect for Dana White and the UFC. I have to give Dana and the UFC all the credit for getting MMA in the mainstream, but right now I have a contract with Strikeforce, and I’m doing the best I can as a martial artist and an MMA champion… former champion…. you know, I could not say right now. I’m not that young anymore [laughs], so we’ll see
Thanks so much for taking this time with me Cung. Is there anyone you would like to thank?
Cung Le: Definitely, I’d like to thank Zebra Mats, Throwdown, ADX, KNOXX Gear and BR Flooring. I also want to thank all of the fans, the Vietnamese community, and to everyone in MMA that supports all of us as fighters and athletes, thank you very much.
Alright Cung, thanks a lot….
Cung Le: And thank you for the interview. I think I shed a bit of light, more than any other interview for you, so hopefully your interview with me stands out more than the other ones.