Former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cung Le takes on former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 185-pound titleholder Rich Franklin this Saturday night (Nov. 10, 2012) at the Cotai Arena in Macao.
UFC on FUEL TV 6 will be the first show ZUFFA has ever held in China. Since there isn't a Chinese-born fighter skilled enough to headline the card, the UFC turned to Le, who is famous for his Sanshou base that originated in East Asia. After a 1-1 start inside the Octagon, Le looks for the biggest win of his aging career.
Will his flashy kickboxing be able to net him a win over his second former UFC champion?
Let's find out.
Le has trained and competed extensively in Sanshou, a hybrid martial art which combines kickboxing and wrestling. His experience in said discipline has made him one of the most unique fighters in the sport, constantly throwing spinning punches and kicks.
Before I get to Cung's fantastic kicks, let's talk about his hands. His boxing is average at best, and while some of his punches pack a deceiving amount of power, most of them don't damage his opponent. Rather, they serve as a back-up plan for when his opponent gets too close to him and he cannot effectively kick them. Cung has been able to get away with his boxing deficiency because his kicks keep his opponents off their timing, and they can't get comfortable enough to capitalize on this flaw.
Thanks to Cage Potato for the GIFS.
Le's best punching technique is his spinning back fist. When an opponent pressures Le as he kicks, he will feign the kick and throw the spinning back fist. Le did this to Wanderlei Silva a couple times in the first round of their fight.
On to the spectacular part of Le's game: his kicks. Cung's entire game consists of keeping his opponent at the end of his kicks, and he does it very well. One of the reasons he is able to do this is because of the diversity of his kicks. Cung will mix spinning back kicks, side kicks, and wheel kicks in with his roundhouse kicks.
Le knows his range very well, and it is apparent. He lands those kicks very often, and unlike most fancy kickers, they can finish the fight.
Cung's striking is not without flaws. At range he is fantastic, but once his opponent gets close, his defense disappears. Since Le is so comfortable at range, he regularly keeps his hands down. This gets increasingly dangerous throughout the fight as fatigue sets in. As he slows down, he fails to bring his hands back up when his opponent gets inside his range. Cung's inadequate boxing defense accounts for both of his losses, and is a serious liability against Franklin.
Le had a successful wrestling career in high school and college. Adding to his collegiate wrestling, Sanshou involves trip clinches and throws. Le has a unique combination of throws and takedowns, although he generally prefers to keep it standing.
Most of Cung's takedowns come from the clinch, showing great control before tossing opponents through the air or subtly tripping them. Backing up his technical prowess is brute strength that he falls back on when he gets tired or is in danger. He also is skilled at catching kicks and turning them into a takedown.
Le prefers single leg takedowns rather than double legs. When he decides to shoot, he fakes a punch or kick then dives forward and latches on. He then lifts with all his strength and throws his opponent to the ground. Regardless of how the takedown begins, Le often lifts his opponent high and slams them hard.
Le has shown solid takedown defense throughout his entire career. While he has yet to face a true wrestling specialist, skilled ground fighters like Frank Shamrock couldn't get him down.
Le's submission skills are the biggest question mark of his game, as we have never really seen him on the ground. However, training at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) under expert ground fighter Dave Camarillo can only help. He currently holds the rank of blue belt.
Cung is very good at what he does. Using his powerful kicks, he keeps opponents at range and disrupts their rhythm. As they are trying to find openings, he batters their bodies and slowly breaks them down. By the time they start to have success, they are too beaten up to capitalize on opportunities. Even striking legend Wanderlei Silva was getting picked apart from the outside before Cung started to slow down.
The reason Cung is able to baffle experienced veterans is because he uses techniques they aren't used to. Shamrock and Wanderlei are both former champions in major organizations, and yet Cung was able to force them to fight his fight. While pressuring a kicker is normally a solid strategy, they both found out this wouldn't work against Le because they would eat hard shots and mostly hit air.
Best chance for success
Franklin is a tough style match-up for Le. Since the fight is five rounds, Cung needs to put on the hurt early. Le needs to hold Franklin at the end of his range like he loves to do, and constantly damage him with kicks. He must avoid boxing with Rich; as soon as Rich gets too close to him he should clinch with him and then try to break away and get back to his range.
Even if "Ace" blocks most of the kicks, Franklin has had his arm break in fights before and Cung has shown he can do the same. He doesn't have the cardio to win a decision over Franklin, who despite his age has yet to gas in a fight. Cung likely will not be able to withstand the later rounds of an uninjured Franklin. If Rich slows down due to a broken limb, then Le's cardio won't be exploited.
The positive news for Le is that Franklin has been kicked successfully by bigger, slower guys like Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell. If they can land on Rich with consistency, so can Le. Rich's boxing is also rather looping, so getting the clinch to stay safe shouldn't be that difficult, either.
Will Le have his breakthrough moment in the UFC, or will Rich inch forward on what is likely his final title run?