Two fan-favorite former champions will meet this Saturday night (November 19, 2011) as former Pride middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva welcomes former Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le to the Octagon in the co-main event of UFC 139 in San Jose, California.
Silva is 1-1 since dropping down to middleweight and he wants to fight badly, hoping to erase the memory of a knockout loss to Chris Leben earlier this summer. He defeated Michael Bisping in his middleweight debut in 2010, so he's still capable of hanging with the elite and he's out to prove it against Le.
Cung Le is much more likely to be seen on the big screen than in the cage these days, but he put his movie career on hold for an opportunity to compete in the UFC in his hometown of San Jose. Le hasn't fought in well over a year, but he's hoping to use Wanderlei Silva as target practice. He'll need to get over his Octagon jitters quickly if he wants to survive the early onslaught.
Will Wanderlei Silva return to form and smash Le? Can Cung Le step up and score an emphatic finish with his wild arsenal of striking attacks? What's the best path of victory for both legends in their own right on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 33-11-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 3-6 in the UFC
How he got here: We don't have room for a novel so we'll have the condensed version. Wanderlei Silva got his big break in Pride Fighting Championships. He'd gone 1-2 in the UFC including losing a title shot to Tito Ortiz at UFC 25 but he flourished in Japan.
Once in Japan, Silva went on a legendary four year unbeaten streak which included 12 knockouts and becoming the promotion's defending 205 pound champion. Silva was considered the best fighter on the planet and his victory in the Pride 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix only cemented that fact.
Silva's fall from glory began with a vicious head kick from Mirko Filipovic and a knockout from the hands of Dan Henderson at Pride 33 where he would lose his precious title. He finally signed with the UFC again when Pride was purchased by them. At UFC 79, Silva would finally fight Chuck Liddell in a match that was over five years in the making. No one cared that both men were coming off of two losses, it was still a big deal. The Brazilian would lose a unanimous decision but the fight was the stuff of legends with both men throwing bombs from start to finish.
Silva got back on track with a first round knockout of Keith Jardine but a devastating counter punch from Quinton Jackson in a trilogy fight would send him down to middleweight. "The Axe Murderer" defeated current contender Michael Bisping in his middleweight debut but was then sidelined for over a year with injuries. His return fight against Chris Leben did not go as planned and he was put to sleep in less than 30 seconds earlier this summer.
He staved off retirement talk by stepping up in place of an injured Vitor Belfort to accept a co-main event slot against Cung Le in San Jose.
How he gets it done: It's tough to teach an old dog new tricks, but Wanderlei doesn't have the chin he once had and he can't keep wading through punches just to get off strikes of his own. It seems like no matter what he works on in training, when the cage doors close, he just starts pushing forward and winging hooks. It's what he was built to do.
He'll need to be a little more patient against Cung Le, but also, it would be incredibly wise to get inside. He does not want to stay on the outside and become a sitting duck for his opponent's plethora of kick attacks. Le does not have the one punch knockout power of fighters like Quinton Jackson or Chris Leben so Silva should get inside and attack with short punches and knees.
If he gets inside and forces a clinch whether it's a regular body lock or an aggressive Muay Thai plum, he'll take away his opponent's biggest weapon. Depending on whether Le is any good at defending in the clinch, there's possibility that we could see some old school Wanderlei knee attacks in this fight.
Record: 7-1 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Scott Smith (Strikeforce: Evolution)
How he got here: Cung Le has been incredibly successful in every athletic endeavor he's ever attempted. He got into martial arts at the age of 10 with Tae Kwon Do and that's where his strong background in kicking originated. He's not a one-trick pony though. He was a solid junior college wrestler, went 17-0 as a kickboxer and was undefeated professionally in the martial art of Sanshao as well, winning several championships in that sport.
In 2006, Le transitioned to mixed martial arts, making his debut in Strikeforce and knocking out his first three opponents in the first round. After improving to 5-0, he would take on the legendary Frank Shamrock, who promised to stand toe-to-toe with him for the Strikeforce middleweight title. He won the fight after Shamrock's arm was broken from blocking a heavy kick and he had been dominant up until that point as well.
He would vacate his title to get in the movie business but after over a year away from the sport, he returned for a non-title affair with Scott Smith. In that fight, he hit Scott Smith with everything he had for two rounds but in typical Scott Smith fashion, he would score a crazy comeback knockout to hand Le his first professional defeat.
Le would avenge his loss six months later with a dominant destruction of Smith, finishing the fight with a brutal spinning back kick to the body and following up with punches. He again left for filming obligations but when the UF purchased Strikeforce earlier this year, the possibilities of competing in the Octagon was just too much to ignore and he signed with them for at least one last fight.
How he gets it done: Cung Le needs to be aggressive but keep his distance. He's got as wide an array of kicking attacks as any fighter of all time and he's not afraid to use them. His biggest concern is keeping Wanderlei on the outside and if he wants to do this, his punches are not going to cut it. He'll need to use his side kicks and push kicks like a jab, keeping "The Axe Murderer" in range of his other kicking attacks.
If he can keep Wanderlei on the outside, he'll be wide open for utilizing his spinning back kicks, roundhouse kicks and body kicks but he also needs to be looking to go high as one clean connection with a kick directed at Silva's head could be lights out.
If Wanderlei tries to get inside, Le needs to use his wrestling and Sanshao background to pummel under, get some underhooks and either push off or back away. His punches are decent but his kicks are better and he'll be at his best when he's got the space to utilize them.
Fight "X-Factor:" The are a ton of factors for this fight. Cung Le hasn't fought in nearly 16 months and he ran out of gas the last time he returned from the movies. He's also 39 years old and that could play into his performance. He says he learned his lesson from last time and has been training since February, but we'll see.
The other obvious factor is Wanderlei's ability to absorb punishment. It's simply not what it used to be. He's been knocked out cold in four of his last eight fights, so he'll really have to protect his chin as I don't think he can walk through a big kick to the head from Le. Getting inside is priority number one for the legend.
Bottom Line: Even if he fights until he can no longer stand, Wanderlei Silva is a legend and worthy of your attention. This isn't exactly a horrible match-up for him as Cung Le is not the most powerful puncher in the world. There's serious potential for some fireworks in this match and something tells me that Silva will feed off the crowd's tremendous energy and really bring it on Saturday night. There's no telling how sharp Le will be after so much time away from the cage, but if he's not at his best, he could be in for some serious punishment from "The Axe Murderer." I highly suggest tuning in just to see if both fighters still got it because if they do, we're in for a treat.
Who will come out on top at UFC 139? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!