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5 Oz. Exclusive with Cung Le: ‘I have to do the right thing for myself, and my family too’

Cung LeThere’s two sides to every story.

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 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”.

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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.

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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”.

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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.

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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.

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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.

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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.

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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.

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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.

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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.

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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.

FiveOuncesOfPain: 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.

FiveOuncesOfPain: I appreciate it Cung, I really do. I think the fans are really going to respect you clearing the air in your own words on the whole situation. Take care.

  • edub says:

    He sounds very sincere. Hopefully he can make some sort of a comeback to fight someone in Strikeforces MW division. Id like to see him and Robbie go at it, or even him vs Jacare(kind of like the ultimate Kick boxer vs Jiu jitsu matchup).

  • Angry Mike says:

    Very articulate guy. As a fan I hope he conintues to fight, but only if he’s really dedicated to the sport. If he’s disinterested, he owes it to himself, the sport and the fans to do something else.

  • fanoftna33 says:

    If he only wants to fight once or twice a year in big fights that would be cool. Strikeforce has enough guys at 185 that would make some exciting match ups. Miller, Lawler for sure, Shields, all fun fights for the fans, plus strikeforce is still building up its roster.

  • mu_shin says:

    Cung Le is a great fighter, and was a great champion. Used to watch him in sanshou matches, where he was untouchable, and his victory over Frank Shamrock was a strong statement in MMA. I wish him success in whatever he pursues, and if we are lucky enough to see him fight again, I’m sure it will be memorable.

  • hindsightufuk says:

    arent cungs wins classed as tko’s? i dont recall anyone being knocked clean out?

  • moosebaby02 says:

    either way tufuk he should be back in the ring. love watching him fight.

  • H3ro says:

    Cung Le and other fighters who try to do movies and other activities that interfere with fighting should be fined or dropped from the organization. These fighters should have to honor their contracts. If fighters can make movies during their contracts, why can’t they fight in different fight promotions?

    How can people think Cung was a great champion? This perplexes me. Cung Le has never beaten a top 20 fighter and he won the belt from an aging Shamrock. Mr. Le never defended his belt, held it as long as he can, and he was ducking Nick Diaz at that time. You have to at least defend your StrikeForce belt, at least once if you’re a true champion. I think Nick Diaz would have beaten Cung Le and I think Cung thought the same thing since losing would hurt his image and his stock would have dropped.

    This article is praising Cung Le for givng up his belt, when it should be the exact opposite. It states in the beginning that” Cung Le has an impressive resume in Hollywood.” That’s like saying my girlfriend is Megan Fox. I don’t think Tekken or any of his other movies are going to be Oscar winners or even break the $100 million mark. Cung Le was discovered because of StrikeForce and he should at least finish up his contract with StrikeForce. Cung Le is the next Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Dam. If Cung Le were as good as people thought, than he would have made much more money in MMA, with fights and sponsors.

  • neijia says:

    @H3ro are you one of those people who always used to say how Fedor was no good, and how Machida was no good? If you’ve done any training at all in any standup styles, it’s clear as day how good Cung Le was. Probably would’ve been the only good matchup for Anderson Silva at 185.

    If he wants to and can do movies, he definitely should. A lot more money, a lot more opportunities in the overall entertainment business, of which pro sports is a small part, and mma is a tiny part. Right now the producers take all of the money in mma and the talent gets almost nothing compared to other individual sports such as boxing, tennis, and golf. Eventually the underlying economics will surface.

    In the meantime, I hope we get to see Cung fight again.

  • Makington says:

    I don’t hate him as much as Hero apparently does, but I more or less agree. He may be sincere, but it’s going to take a whole lot more than that for me to ever respect him again. He mat have won many people back with that but I will still need convincing of his integrity.

  • neijia says:

    huh? he just gave the flat out honest answer, similar to CroCop in that earlier article, but he actually went out on top rather than after a few years of being conflicted about it. how do you need more honesty to see “integrity”?

    let’s face it. pro athletes cannot be at the top or even in the sport forever. very, very few can transition to something like movies. there is Ahnold (if you consider bodybuilding a sport), The Rock (if you consider pro wrestling a sport), and a few others, but not many… if Cung Le or Rampage can do it, and want to, they should. fighters’ obligations are not to fight fans. but then, he also made the point that movies have a much larger fan base and that could actually help mma. movies can also create transitions to other opportunities. it would be incredibly stupid for these guys to not give it a go.

  • neijia says:

    incidentally, from a recent SI article:

    – After two years of retirement, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt
    – Within five years of retirement, 60% of former NBA players are broke
    ( see )

    not good news for mma fighters with no good second career prospects

  • edub says:

    “Probably would’ve been the only good matchup for Anderson Silva at 185.”

    Neijia Ill agree with a few of your points but your really reaching in this one. To upend an aging Frank Shamrock is one thing, but to go up against the Spider is a complete different animal.

  • H3ro says:

    @neijia I think Machida is a great fighter. He has beaten the everybody put in front of him with ease. We have seen that Machida also has a great ground game. We haven’t seen any of this with Cung Le. Can he fight on the ground? Can he compete against the top light heavyweights? I would bet my house that Nick Diaz would beat Cung Le.

    If these fighters want to do movies, than they shouldn’t sign a contract. I don’t like it when a movie interferes with a fighters obligation to fight. Let me know how is new movie is. It can’t be any better than Jean Claude movies.

  • fanoftna33 says:

    Nothing can touch Van Damm in Cyborg.

  • twyg says:

    I have raged on this site before about the lack of a title defense and his desire to do movies rather then fight. I also understand the need to get a paycheck when it is there. I don’t think he has a ground game and saying he would be a match for A.Silva is reaching. He won the title but never defended it; to me that is worse then losing it in your first defense. He may have won a bunch of medals and championships, but I will never consider him a true MMA champion. I don’t think he comes back, because if he gets a few more movies by the time those are done and promotion for them is through he will be to old. Not everyone is Randy and can fight into late 30s early 40s.

  • Makington says:

    I do find that interesting about sport retirement, but no matter which way you look at it, waiting almost 2 years to decide this isn’t integrity. I honestly have nothing against acting. If you payed me a crap load, I will do whatever you want me to do, even if it’s telling everyone how much I pity the fool. However, I would not sign the contract for a movie when fighting is my number one priority. Leaving all of his fans behind and leaving Strikeforce in limbo is not a respectful thing to do, by any stretch. So almost 2 years later he finally makes the decision that everyone knew the whole time, he’s giving up on fighting, atleast for now. After showing such little spine to his priorities, it will take a lot more than this article for me to believe he is a man of integrity.

  • H3ro says:

    Pandorum was not screened for critics in advance. If the movie were suppose to be at least decent, it would have been shown in advance.

    I think Cung Le would have made more money fighting than making movies. If you compare one fight to one movie, the movie would probably pay less because he is not a well known actor and the movie probably won’t do too well. Just because you make one or two films, it doesn’t mean you can be a full time actor. Acting gigs are hard to come by and if you don’t have a big name, opportunities are slim.

  • neijia says:

    Cung Le is pretty old now (37) for mma


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