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By: Brad Walker, MMATorch Columnist
MMATorch Columnist Brad Walker spoke with UFC middleweight Cung Le via email this week ahead of Le's bout with Rich Franklin at UFC 148. Check out their conversation below:
WALKER: What made you interested in becoming a professional Mixed Martial Artist?
LE: My friend Javier Mendez had been telling me to get into the sport of MMA with my background. I started thinking about it, and when I decided to, he became my coach and helped me get started.
WALKER:You made your debut on the big stage for Strikeforce in 2006, how did it feel to come out to the cage for that first fight?
LE: I was definitely nervous stepping into the cage for a debut, I built my career with Strikeforce on the kickboxing side, and was glad to start my MMA career with them. As an experienced fighter, you're always going to prepare for the toughest fight of your life. I think any MMA fighter will tell you that you definitely get nervous for your first time when you get into the cage, and especially after the door locks behind you.
WALKER: You won that fight with a very decisive knockout – did you know then that you were going to remain in the sport for some time to come?
LE: I am the kind of person who goes all in and will train and perform to the best my abilities in whatever I do. I knew that this wasn't going to be a one fight deal and retire. I did know that I still had a lot to learn and was interested in taking in all of the knowledge of the game that I could to be my best at it.
WALKER: In your 9 career fights the one that sticks out the most is Frank Shamrock – how did it feel to mentally prepare to fight a legend?
LE: A lot of a fighters mental preparation comes from working closely with your coaches and your teammates. Your mentals get stronger based on your preparation and training for the fight. My coach, Javier Mendez, put together a game plan and my fight camp to get me ready, and I was game to do my best and be at my best to fight Frank that night. It was definitely a war, and I pulled through the win in the end.
WALKER: Shortly after defeating Frank, you had to vacate the title due to filming obligations, how hard was that to do?
LE: I think timing means everything. While I carried the Strikeforce title, it was challenging to get an opponent to defend my title due to timing of injuries, etc. Since I didn't have anything locked in and I got a great movie opportunity I couldn't turn down to work with some top producers and start building my acting career, I made the decision to vacate the title. It was hard to do, however, it was also a great opportunity that I let it go for. I knew it wasn't the end of my fight career, but when the right time came around again, I would be back in the cage ready to roll.
WALKER: Your striking is considered some of the most unique and flashy in MMA; do you feel that gives you an edge going into a fight?
LE: I think that my style gives me a slight edge, because there aren't many fighters who can mimic my style to help prepare an opponent to fight me. I think all camps do what they gotta do to prepare their fighter and set the right game plan to win, just the same as my camp needs to plan and execute for me as well.
WALKER: Most recently at UFC 139 you fought the very dangerous Wanderlei Silva, how did you prepare for that fight – and what were your expectations stepping into the cage across from such a dangerous striker?
LE: I trained at one of the top gyms - American Kickboxing Academy, which has some of the top fighters in the world. I felt that I was mentally and physically ready for this fight and had a good team who helped me prepare for Wanderlei. I pushed the pace in the first round and in the start of the second, backing him up, which he normally does not do when he fights. At the end of the day, it was his night, I got caught with a few heavy shots that ended the fight.
WALKER:After that loss, you had stated that the back of your head felt nearly as bad as the front – do you feel the stoppage was unjust or that the referee missed some illegal strikes?
LE: Depending on the angle where the referee is, they may not see every shot. I did get caught with a strike to the nose, it wasn't the first time I broke my nose. So I was game and ready to go another round. I went against the cardinal rule during a fight and blew my nose, that's why it swelled up so much and looked worse than it really was. However, that's how the fight game goes, you take what happend and move on to be a better fighter. It was an honor to fight Wanderlei, as he is definitely one of the best in the game.
WALKER: You have some incredible credits thus far in your film career such as Tekken and Pandorum, how do you balance fighting and acting?
LE: I balance both by committing to one at a time, but even while I'm on set and filming I train. Training is not just a fight priority, its also a personal and an acting priority to stay in shape.
WALKER: Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming projects on the big screen?
LE: I have my next movie "Dragon Eyes" w/ Jean Claude Van Damme coming out this weekend. This is my first movie where I am casted with the lead role in the film working alongside Van Damme. I have another coming out this year "Man with the Iron Fists", which was directed by RZA and I got a chance to work with Russell Crowe, and Lucy Lu.
WALKER: How do you feel going into your next matchup with former champ Rich Franklin - how do you feel you two match up?
LE: I think my fight with Rich Franklin will be an exciting fight. He is a former UFC Champion, I'm a former Strikeforce Champion, and I think our style match ups will be good with his standup and mine.
WALKER: You got into MMA at the age of 33; do you feel if you had started younger you would have a bigger advantage in the cage right now?
LE: I think that my background as a martial artist since I was young, Sanshou experience and world titles, and wrestling background is a strong advantage in the cage now. I am definitely known for my striking abilities and my style is unique to the game. All of my MMA opponents have had more experience in the cage than myself. I learn more every fight to add to my game and I always train to be better than my last fight and prepare for my opponent.
WALKER: Your extravagant striking has earned you the nickname 'The Human Highlight Reel' how does it feel to get such a distinction?
LE: It is an honor, but it comes with hard work and dedication.
Brad Walker would like to thank Cung Le for taking time out of his busy schedule for this interview.
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