Before it was acquired by ZUFFA in early 2011, Strikeforce had slowly evolved from little engine that could to full-fledged number two mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion on the planet, under the leadership of Scott Coker and his broadcasting agreement with Showtime.
The network that would put Cung Le on the map on March 29, 2008.
That's when the San Shou striker took on the face of the former kickboxing organization, Frank Shamrock, in a championship bout scheduled for five rounds in the promotion's backyard, the HP Pavilion -- or "Shark Tank" -- in San Jose, California.
Le was undefeated in five professional fights. In addition, he had finished all five of his opponents by way of knockout or technical knockout. Despite his small frame, he was a giant among middleweights for his ability to inflict damage using kicks not ordinarily seen by the average fan.
And Shamrock was, well, Shamrock.
"The Legend," outside of a disqualification to Renzo Gracie the year before, had not lost in 14 straight bouts and was last seen putting the screws to Phil Baroni in the main event of their Showtime spectacular as part of a 2007 event co-promoted with EliteXC.
In short, this town (and this title) wasn't big enough for the both of them.
Round one gets underway with an exchange of low kicks. Le spins his leg but doesn't connect and Shamrock briefly ties him up with a body lock. Le escapes and Shamrock begins to taunt him before eating a four ounce sandwich. Kicks come fast and heavy from each combatant.
"The other problem for Shamrock is the left roundhouse kick," remarks cageside color commentator Stephen Quadros, in a bit of foreshadowing. "Even if Shamrock shields that kick with both of his arms, it's gonna hurt him, and it's possible it could break his arm."
The round is halfway over and Le answers another helping of taunts with a pair of push kicks and a roundhouse. He greedily uncorks a spinning back kick that goes high and Shamrock dumps him on his ass and pounces. A random fan can be seen in the background, falling out of her chair. Le gets his legs under him and Frank retreats.
They exchange flurries to close out the round and Shamrock teases him with the "go to sleep" at the horn.
The second stanza starts much like the first: an exchange of low kicks followed by more taunts from Shamrock, whose mouthpiece flies across the cage after he gets popped in the kisser. "The Legend" laughs in the face of Staphylococcus and just shoves it right back in.
Both fighters begin to paw at one another but neither will commit. Le charges with a stright left and they tie up. Shamrock goes to one limb and Le seizes the opportunity, sweeps and dumps his foe on the floor. Shammy invites him to follow but Le is having none of it.
Back on the feet and the tide is starting to turn. Le has gotten comfortable with both range and timing and his kicks are finding a home. Shamrock seems content to do more theatrics than offense and a few audible boos are heard as the round comes to a close.
Le opens what would turn out to be the final frame with a roundhouse kick that connects.
Two minutes in and Shamrock is getting picked apart with a barrage of kicks that come from all angles. Le's hands are low and Quadros suggests disdain for Shamrock's striking -- not cardio -- for the reckless defense. More kicks follow and Shamrock's arm takes on a crimson hue and begins to swell.
Shamrock's lazy push kick gets him swept hard and the crowd -- along with play-by-play man Mauro Ranallo -- erupt. He wearily stands and all signs of showmanship have vanished. Shammy pushes forward with a heightened sense of urgency and exploits the low hands of the challenger.
Suddenly, Le takes a straight right flush on the chin and his knees buckle.
He tries to circle out but Shamrock is all over him, unloading a blitzkrieg of punches and trying to secure the finish. The crowd is on its feet. "The Legend" has Le pushed against the fence and is unloading bombs, but the San Shou striker escapes.
30 seconds left in the round.
Shamrock walking Le down and scores a right hand. Punches in bunches and Le kicking defensively. With just eight seconds remaining, Le wallops Shamrock with a roundhouse that breaks his arm and sends him backward into the cage. He's hurt and Le pours it on until the fight stops.
It would never restart.
That's because Shamrock is unable to continue due to his injury and Le is crowned the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion -- and the new king of San Jose.
That was then. This is now.
After recently winning his first fight inside the Octagon, Le will once again headline a televised event when he takes on Rich Franklin at the UFC on FUEL TV 6: "Franklin vs. Le" event scheduled for the CotaiArena at the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel in the People's Republic of China, on Nov. 10, 2012.
Will "Ace," like Shamrock, be broken in their battle of bad intentions?