Exclusive Cung Le Interview

I recently sat down with StrikeForce Middleweight Champion and San Jose product Cung Le at his gym in Milpitas to discuss his recent movie roles, his new Round 5 action figure, his return to MMA, and his thoughts on the current goings-on in the fight world. It was a very enlightening discussion, and provided a lot of answers that fight fans have been looking for.

Phil Lanides: How’s everything going? What’s going on with your movie career?
Cung Le: Everything is going great. In regards to movies, right now, I’m promoting “Pandorum” with Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster, and several others. The movie is very sci-fi; I play an agricultural specialist in the future. There’s a lot of action, a lot of gore. The script is awesome. The way scenes lead to another, and with all the twists and turns, it’ll keep audiences on their toes. It’s a great film. It’s been a great experience for me, and I can’t wait for the movie to be released.
PL: You have several movies you’ve already worked on…
CL: I’ve got five movies in the can, including “Fighting” with Channing Tatum, and “Tekken,” in which I played Marshall Law.
PL: He’s my favorite character from “Tekken.”
CL: Yeah, he’s popular, for sure. And even though the movie was not focused on my character, it’ll be a fun movie to watch, and I think audiences will enjoy it. It should be very popular because of how popular the game has been, so I’m excited about the exposure. I also have recently gotten to work on a few Chinese movies, including one with the fight director of The Matrix and Kill Bill movies. Donnie Yen directed another movie I worked on, and that was my first time to be able to work with a big-time director. I got to do some fight choreography on that one, which I was really excited about. I’m working on another movie that is still in script [process] now with Jeremy Bolt, who produced the Resident Evil franchise movies. So some big things are on the horizon.
PL: Very cool. Another thing you’ve gotten to be involved with is the Round 5 MMA action figure series. Tell us about that.
CL: This has been a blessing in disguise for me. I’m thankful for Matt Walker, a sports agent that pushed this through, as well as [StrikeForce promoter] Scott Coker, who gave me the opportunity to raise my profile against a guy like Frank Shamrock, and that indirectly opened the door for me to have my own action figure, which is very cool. If it weren’t for Scott giving me the chance to test my will and skills against Frank, the action figure probably wouldn’t have happened.
PL: What did you think of the likeness?
CL: I actually don’t think it did me justice [laughs]
PL: If your figure was to fight Wanderlei Silva’s, who would win and how?
CL: Mine, by spinning back kick to the face.
PL: Are you involved in the EA Sports MMA game?
CL: Yes, I am. I’m going to be going to their studio to do motion capture in September, so the fans will be able to do my kicks, spinning back kicks, and suplexes in the game. So that’s going to be very cool.
PL: Sounds like you’ve got a lot going on.
CL: I’ve got a lot of great people in my life that I’m blessed to have. I’ve got Jet Li’s lawyer, Dave Feldman, a great manager, Scott Karp, my agent, Brett, plus all the fans of MMA and martial arts who have supported me, as well as those who don’t, and have talked trash about me. They’ve kept my name in the news. And you can print that [laughs]
PL: Let’s move the conversation to the fight game. You have been fighting in combat sports for a long time. When you decided to take a break to make movies, was that at all due to a waning drive to compete?
CL: Not at all. I’ve always wanted to fight as long as I could, and I feel like I have some more fights in me. But ever since I started training for MMA in 2005, I’ve been bit by the injury bug. I’ve had four surgeries in that time. When I was training for San Shou and kickboxing, I rarely got injured. But that has changed with MMA. I’m 37 years old, but I take good care of myself: I eat right, I get enough sleep, I don’t go out and party. But I’ve realized my body is just burnt from all the years of training and fighting. I figured it needed a break. I can’t fight forever, so I’ve thought about how I can position myself to take advantage of the fame that fighting has brought me. So an opportunity came along to make a movie, and I figured I needed to strike while the iron is hot and set myself up for after I have to retire. I’m one of the few that will make a movie and then come back and fight. I want to continue to fight, but as my movie roles keep getting bigger and bigger, I can’t train like I need to in order to be a fighter. It takes awhile to get back into shape.
PL: I’ve heard that you are still training on a daily basis when not on a movie set; is this true?
CL: When I’m not on a movie set, I am training regularly. Even on the set, I try to keep active. But I was supposed to have a minor elbow surgery, and look at this [points to large scar]. Does that look minor to you?
PL: No, it doesn’t.
CL: I had an elbow injury going into the fight with Frank, and needed the surgery, which I got afterwards. But I am not one of those guys that likes talking about injuries. I’ve just done what I felt like I’ve had to do.
PL: The big question everyone wants to know is when fight fans should expect to see you defend your StrikeForce Middleweight title. So…when will you fight again?
CL: Scott [Coker] and I have had discussions about this already, and we’ve talked about maybe a warm-up fight after such a long layoff, maybe one on CBS by the end of this year.
PL: Would the fight be for the title?
CL: I don’t know. It depends on my trainer, Javier Mendez. For me, I know what I have to do to prepare, but if he feels like I’m not ready, he won’t put me in there. I’m blessed to be in a position where I don’t HAVE to fight in order to make a living. My wife, who I just got married to last week, has been so supportive, and I’ve been focused on things with her for the last nine months or so, as well. People don’t realize that I’ve been fighting for Scott since his first promotion, and StrikeForce only picked up Showtime this year. I actually was trying to see if I could fight on the first Showtime card in April, but after doing some training, I saw that my elbow was not healed enough to allow it. But the soreness is getting better and not staying as long, so I know I’m recovering. I’m getting close, but I’ll be back when I’m ready.
PL: Let’s shift gears here and talk a little about some of your fighting background. Most know about your kickboxing and San Shou experience, but you are also an accomplished wrestler. Tell us about that.
CL: I used to wrestle year-round, actually. I was an All-American in high school as a junior, and a two-time All-American at West Valley College. I have my blue belt in jiu-jitsu under Paul Shriner and Garth Taylor, which I got after I beat Frank. I’m not as consistent with that training as I should be, but I’m always working on my game.
PL: Have you ever lost before?
CL: As a professional, no, I haven’t lost yet. I’m something like 23-0 as a pro fighter, including MMA, San Shou, K-1, and kickboxing. I did have three losses as an amateur, but that was with 80-something fights.
PL: Let’s get back to the StrikeForce Middleweight title picture. There have been calls for either you to be stripped of your title, or for an interim belt to be created. What is your response to that? Are you offended by such talk?
CL: I talked to Scott Coker and told him I felt bad about not defending my title. He responded that I’d been with him from the beginning, and talked about something that a lot of people don’t realize. When StrikeForce picked up all the Pro Elite/Elite XC contracts [after the promotion went under], they agreed to fulfill the fights for those fighters. So that’s a lot of fights to fill. Scott also said that with the movies I’m doing, it’s great publicity for the promotion, and the type of publicity that no one else on the roster can bring right now. I’m helping promote not only StrikeForce, but the sport of MMA. It looks great for the sport to have the middleweight champion starring in a movie like “Pandorum,” which will be seen worldwide. So he told me to keep doing what I’m doing, and when CBS comes along, we’ll get you back in there. I didn’t want to wait too long, and even offered to vacate the title. But, as I said, we just picked up all these contracts from another promotion; they’re not going to just be allowed to come in and get an automatic title shot. Nick Diaz is on his third fight now because he likes to fight a lot, but Jake [Shields] only has one. These guys were not StrikeForce fighters. They are now, but I’m getting to do what I love, and that’s compete and make movies. If Scott wants to set it up where Cung Le fights the winner of so-and-so versus so-and-so, I’m down. I love to fight, and win, lose, or draw, that’s always been my attitude. I train like a champion, I win like a champion, and if I lose, I’ll lose like a champion. I’ve trained a little with Jake before, and I’m not going to lie: if he gets me on the ground, I’m in big trouble. But if he can’t get me down, or get me in that guillotine choke, who is going to be in trouble, right? Let the fans see the answer to that. In training, I have great control, I don’t hurt anybody. But when it comes to fight time, I will be throwing with bad intentions. I didn’t break Frank’s arm because he had a weak arm, you know?
PL: You brought up Jake Shields; is he the number one contender to your title?
CL: From Jake, to Nick, they’re all great competitors. They’ve got a lot of fights, and more experience than me. Though I don’t what I’m doing, I must be doing something right, however.
PL: Personally, I’d love to see you and Robbie Lawler…
CL: I think that would be great. We all know that StrikeForce can’t compete toe-to-toe against the UFC. Scott Coker…why should he try to compete with the flagship, with the Godfather of MMA? I think it’s a good game plan. Don’t step on anybody’s toes…I don’t even know why Dana is so upset about StrikeForce fighting Fedor. It is what it is, and I don’t get in the middle of it. All I know is that when I walk into the cage, I want to be prepared. When I walk onto a movie set, I want to be prepared.
PL: Speaking of the UFC, are you open to going there if the right offer is made?
CL: If there was able to be a co-promotion between StrikeForce and the UFC, then yes. If I was injury-free, had fulfilled my fights here, then yes, I would consider that. I have a good relationship with Dana, we’ve talked, discussed some fights before, but nothing came out of it. But you never know.
PL: What are your thoughts on the Carano vs. Cyborg fight?
CL: That is going to be one awesome fight. I will be there, and I can’t wait to see it.
PL: Do you have a prediction for the bout?
CL: Gina. Not because she’s hot or anything [laughs]. She’s a very cool person, and if Cyborg can’t take her down, I think she’ll take it.
PL: Who is your favorite fighter, in relation to style?
CL: Definitely Lyoto Machida.
PL: Who is your least favorite fighter?
CL: I always have respect for those that step in the cage, but I would say ones with bad attitudes, guys that talk a lot of smack, like Frank. I didn’t have a problem letting my kicks go against him. I’ve hurt others like that before and felt bad, but when I heard his arm break, I didn’t feel the same way [laughs]. I wanted him to put up his other arm.
PL: How much longer do you think you’ll fight?
CL: As long as my body holds up. After the Shamrock fight, I tried to jump back into the gym as quickly as I could, and I realized my body just couldn’t handle it right then. Rehab is worse than injuries, and I don’t want to go through that again.
PL: What do you hope to accomplish before you retire?
CL: It would be great to retire with an undefeated record. But it doesn’t matter if it’s the top guy in the world, like Anderson Silva, or against the lowest-ranked fighter, I want to be prepared to be the best I can be against them.
PL: Will you kick me in the face?
CL: [chuckles] No
PL: Fine, be that way. Any messages you want to leave for the fans?
CL: I’d like to thank all the fans for their love and support, and for the ones that don’t, thanks for keeping my name out there. Thanks for Round 5 for creating the awesome action figure. I’d like to thank my sponsors, BR Flooring, ADX, Magnum Dry Wall, Zebra Mats, my promoter Scott Coker, my trainer Javier Mendez, and my new wife Suzanne. I’ll be back soon!
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