Cung Le: Rich Franklin fight is biggest of my career

Cung Le - Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Hollywood martial arts actor, former Strikeforce middleweight champion credits his UFC run for extending his participation in mixed martial arts. With a main event bout against Rich Franklin just weeks away, Le says this is as big and good as it gets.

Cung Le has had a lot of high points in his athletic career. He's won amateur wrestling titles, earned an absolute slew of kickboxing titles and held a title in Strikeforce's middleweight division. Despite all of that, Le believes the best is yet to come.

Le is scheduled to face former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin at UFC on FUEL TV 6 in Macau, China on November 10th. It's something of a surprising match-up. Franklin was openly lobbying for a last run at a title at light heavyweight as recently as UFC 147, but will now face Le at middleweight instead. And Le, age 40, could quit fighting altogether while focusing solely on acting.

According to the Vietnamese-American, he could leave MMA, but his UFC experience has kept his competitive fire alive. He lost a fight to Wanderlei SIlva in his UFC debut at UFC 139, but controlled most of the contest prior to that. Le also followed up that commendable performance with a win over Patrick Cote at UFC 148. In Le's mind, his fighting career is still building after some thought he'd be retired by now and on November 10th, it'll reach the highest point in his fight career.

"A lot of people thought after I fought Wanderlei [Silva] I was going to be done," Le told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. "But look at me now: two fights into my contract and I'm getting ready to fight the biggest fight of my life against Rich Franklin. It doesn't get any better than this. It's like a dream come true for me."

That could be a surprising statement to some. Le fought a high-profile, co-promoted bout by EliteXC and Strikeforce against then-Strikeforce middleweight champion Frank Shamrock. The bout aired on Showtime and took place in the hometown of both fighters: San Jose, California. Le had hype, but plenty of doubters. He was also a fairly heavy betting underdog.

Rather than fold under the pressure, Le shined. In front of more than 16,000 mixed martial arts fans at the HP Pavilion, Le broke Shamrock's arm with a thunderous kick, forcing the bout to be called to a halt after the third round. He became the Strikeforce middleweight champion in the process.

Le admits that fight was important and still reserves the right to change his mind about how big it is depending on the outcome, but says there are too many factors that make this Franklin fight special. "For me in my career right now fighting someone like Rich as a main event - fighting Shamrock was the biggest fight of my career at the time - but right now this is the biggest fight of my career," he said.

To the AKA-trained fighter, he can't overlook the fact that he's never headlined a UFC show. He also recognizes he's never faced a fighter this good before. And while things are going well in his acting career (he has a role in the new movie 'The Man With the Iron Fists'), this main event bout in China is the culmination of not jus his late-career push, but everything he's done up until now.

He also couldn't pass up the opportunity to compete in China. Le told Helwani he's only '80 percent' as he hasn't had proper time to heal a foot injury. But the card taking place in China - where Le has previously competed in kickboxing - made the idea of missing the event a non-starter. "Definitely if this fight wasn't in Macau, China, even if I was in a main event somewhere else, I'd give myself the right amount of time so my foot could really heal."

So why go forward with it? For the honor of competing in a place where Le feels it all began. "I feel like martial arts basically started from China and my roots are the Chinese martial arts," he said.

This is why Le got into MMA: the big fight, the big opponent, the big stage. No one was really sure how long he'd be able to compete in MMA between his acting career and his age. But here he is, doing well and arguably better than ever. "This is why I do it," he said. "I could just be doing movies, but I love to compete. I love to train martial arts. This is what I love to do. Here's my opportunity. To do it in China, it's awesome."

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