by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
There have been few combat sports athletes whose debuts had been eagerly anticipated as much as San Shou World Champion Cung Le’s was this past March at Strikeforce 1.
After defeating Mike Altman in March and then Brian Warren three months later at Strikeforce 2, Le proved to both his supporters and critics that he could successfully segue from San Shou to MMA with the same level of excellence he had demonstrated before.
Now, nearly half a year after dispatching Warren, Cung returns December 8th at Strikeforce 4 to face off against possibly his most dangerous MMA opponent yet, former The Ultimate Fighter participant Jason Von Flue.
During final preparations for the event, Le took time from his hectic schedule to speak to MMAWeekly about his MMA career so far, his match with Von Flue and career aspirations beyond combat sports.
MMAWeekly: You’ve had a very successful year in MMA so far, how do you feel about it and your development so far as a fighter in our sport?
Cung Le: It’s definitely going really well – two wins, two KO’s. I feel a huge improvement; it’s like night and day. I understand the game a lot more and I’m getting a better feel for how the strategy of an MMA fight works.
MMAWeekly: Your entrance into our sport was highly anticipated by many fans. How does it feel to know you’ve delivered on people’s expectations?
Cung Le: I’m very happy. It’s not only do I get the chance to prove it to those people, but I get the chance to prove it to myself and it’s very satisfying.
MMAWeekly: Let’s talk about your fight against Jason Von Flue in Strikeforce. First off, how have the preparations for this fight been going?
Cung Le: Good, I always train hard and I’m definitely training smarter now. Javier Mendez has been working with me a lot one-on-one and sharpening my stand-up. I’m really pushing hard on my ground game too, just in case the fight goes to the ground, and then I’ve just got to let everything come together when I’m in that situation.
MMAWeekly: Have you had an opportunity to see any tape on Von Flue and prepare specifically for him?
Cung Le: I saw him fight live in Fresno [at the last Strikeforce]. I think he’s a very tough fighter. He’s one of those guys that will keep coming and has a lot of heart. It’s going to be one of those fights where if he keeps coming, I just have to take my time, be patient and sharp-shoot.
MMAWeekly: It seems you always get matched up against fighters who are very aggressive and want to take you out.
Cung Le: I think match-ups are key for fans and I think this is a good match-up for them. Sometimes there’s fights where [fighters are] not doing anything or one guy is too passive or not aggressive enough and people think how boring a fight it is or how it sucks. I think this fight people are expecting it to be lights-out, both guns blazing.
MMAWeekly: So fans definitely won’t be disappointed with this fight, right?
Cung Le: Not at all…like I said I’m going to fight smart, fight my game and whatever Von Flue comes at me with, I’ll be prepared.
MMAWeekly: Now I know you had some injuries after the last fight, how are you headed into this match?
Cung Le: Everything is 100%. Of course I’m not sure there’s a fighter that goes into a fight 100%, there’s always something sore, aching, or little injuries here or there, but if I perform like I’ve done in practice it’s going to be a very exciting fight with a lot of fireworks coming from me.
MMAWeekly: I know you’ve been busy shooting a new movie with David Carradine and Eric Roberts, among others. Was there any worry from the filmmakers that you’re again fighting during shooting and how has been to balance both fighting and your film career?
Cung Le: Actually my promoters and trainers were more worried because I didn’t get back [from filming] until like four-and-a-half weeks before my last fight, but this time I didn’t leave. We’ve still got another 30% of the movie to shoot, which is about maybe three or four weeks of filming to get done, but at this time I just didn’t want to leave the country again.
It’s just very demanding on the mind and body to go out of the country, travel, film and deliver the lines, action and carry the movie as the lead character. So I just decided I was going to stay home and concentrate on this fight.
MMAWeekly: So with the delay we should expect to see that out sometime next year correct?
Cung Le: Yeah…you’ll see it sometime next year. I think the director is upset with me for not being a team player and going to Russia again when he said they’d finish the movie in LA, but what can I do? Sometimes you’ve got to put priorities one before the other.
MMAWeekly: And right now the priorities are your fighting career and the USH! [Unity Starts Here] Fight Team right?
Cung Le: That’s right.
MMAWeekly: Speaking of the team, how are things going on that front?
Cung Le: The team is doing really well. I turned five fighters pro this year and so far everybody is undefeated, so we’re very happy about that. We’re just looking to keep the streak going. Right now I’ve got two fighters on the Strikeforce card too [Elaina Maxwell and Anthony Figueroa], so the ball is in our court right now. The event is called “Triple Threat,” so we’ve just got to be the triple threat of the event.
MMAWeekly: So things are definitely going well on the career front and with the gym?
Cung Le: Career-wise everything’s been going great. There was some talk that I could have been on the PRIDE card but Phil Baroni ended up fighting, but if he ended up not fighting on the card it looked like I might have been put in. It didn’t happen but no big deal; I got the chance to go and watch them and support them. I’m just happy I’m part of a good team, the AKA team, and I’m happy I have my own team where I run and train regular people into world class fighters.
MMAWeekly: Having said that, with 2006 coming to a close what are the career goals for you heading into next year?
Cung Le: Well definitely I want to finish this movie that I’m doing, and in fact me, two of my students, and Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick just auditioned for this movie called Never Submit and I think we all advanced to the next round of auditions. Me, Josh and Mike are all managed by the same manager, Duane Jenkins, so that’s pretty exciting and it shows that talent is out there and that hopefully we can get out there and make an impact in the entertainment world.
MMAWeekly: And for your fighting career?
Cung Le: You know what, I’m just going to get through this fight right now and then I can look forward to next year. If I don’t get through this fight, who knows what may happen next year? So this fight right now is the most important thing that is on the table and I can’t look any further than Jason Von Flue.
MMAWeekly: That’s understandable Cung. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule for us; it’s been great as always. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?
Cung Le: I just want everyone to know that it took a while for me to get into MMA and the reason was that I had a lot of stuff going on so I couldn’t dedicate myself 110% to it. If I couldn’t focus myself and be the best MMA fighter that I could be, then I didn’t want to go out there and disappoint myself and disappoint the fans.
Whatever I can do I am going to do it to the best of my abilities, it just took a while because I just didn’t have all the ducks lined up and like I said whenever I do something I have to do it 110%. Now I’m able to do it 110%, one fight at a time – one day at a time.
I’ve got to thank sponsors, Xyience, Knoxx Gear, myGride.com, Throwdown for sponsoring a new cage and taking care of me, Sprawl shorts and everyone that’s supported me…the fans, you [MMAWeekly], my students and the Vietnamese community for taking care of me and helping me do what I do best.
MMAWeekly: And for the fans that come out for Strikeforce, they can expect an exciting fight between you and Jason Von Flue, correct?
Cung Le: Definitely…there’s going to be some fireworks that night.