Two veteran with vastly different striking backgrounds will collide this Saturday night (July 7, 2012) as former Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le takes on former UFC middleweight title challenger Patrick Cote on the UFC 148 main card in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Cung Le returned from a long layoff due to his film career to make his UFC debut late last year, but was defeated by a down-but-not-out Wanderlei Silva. Now, the39 year old former Strikeforce standout is just looking to get a big win as his career winds down.
Patrick Cote had a huge fall after failing in an attempt to fight for the title against Anderson Silva, actually finding himself unemployed after three straight losses. "The Predator" paid his dues outside the organization with four straight victories and now he's back and looking to go on another run.
Will Le secure that much-desired first UFC victory? Can Cote come in on short notice and put Le away with his big right hand? What's the key to victory for both men this Saturday night?
Let's find out:Cung Le
Record: 7-2 overall, 0-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Wanderlei Silva (UFC 139), 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 UFC purchased Strikeforce earlier this year, the possibilities of competing in the Octagon was just too much to ignore and he signed with them.
Le's Octagon debut didn't go quite as planned against Wanderlei Silva, losing via second round knockout, but he looked strong in the first round. Now he's hoping to get that first UFC victory against a returning UFC veteran in Patrick Cote.
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 Cote 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 Predator" in range of his other kicking attacks.
If he can keep Cote 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 Cote's head could be lights out.
If Le is going to throw a punch, it should be something crazy like the spinning backfist that almost put Wanderlei Silva's lights out. He's got crazy flexibility and can actually go high with a crazy wheel kick from only a couple feet away. This is something that Cote may not see coming.
If Cote 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.
Record: 17-7 overall, 4-7 in the UFC
How he got here: Patrick Cote got off to a tremendous start in his career, winning his first five fights and found himself in the co-main event of UFC 50 against Tito Ortiz in the UFC by his sixth professional bout after a very late injury to Guy Metzger.
Cote would lose via decision, and would also lose his next two UFC bouts to find himself on the outs with the promotion. "The Predator" would earn his way back on season four of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) "The Comeback," advancing all the way to the finale before losing out on a potential title shot to Travis Lutter to move his UFC record to 0-4.
From there, Cote went on a hot streak, winning five straight including two impressive "Knockout of the Night" performances to earn his title shot anyways. Against champion Anderson Silva, Cote didn't engage, which flustered the "The Spider" and actually allowed him to be the first man to ever advance to the third round against the titleholder.
Unfortunately, Cote's knee ripped to shreds in a freak accident in the third round, granting Silva the victory. Cote's bad luck continued with two straight losses to find himself once again given a pink slip from the promotion.
Since his release, the French Canadian has bounced back with four straight victories including three over former UFC competitors, his most recent two bouts being stoppages. Now he's back and ready for the big time, stepping in for Rich Franklin to take on Cung Le in the biggest pay-per-view of the year thus far.
How he gets it done: Cote absolutely 100 percent needs to get inside and try to land with power. Cung Le can be very frustrating to face since he throws so many unorthodox attacks from the outside with his wide variety of kicks.
If Cote wants to neutralize Le, he needs to close the distance whether in the clinch or simply getting deep in the pocket. "The Predator" isn't known for having great kicks, but his punching power holds up against just about any middleweight on the UFC roster and if he can connect with that big right hand, it's going to be lights out for Le.
The clinch is Cote's friend as well as Le will have no room to operate. Also, Cote says he's been working with the Olympic wrestling team in Canada for the past three years to shore up his biggest weakness. if that's the case and Le leaves his front leg out to dry, perhaps he could shoot in and try to take the South Vietnamese-American down.
Whatever he can do to disrupt Le's rhythm, that's what's important.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is spacing and time. Cote has been a little hesitant to engage in his last few UFC bouts, instead forcing his opponents to lead the way. If he sits back on his heels against Le, he's going to find himself repeatedly on the receiving end of a plethora of different kicks from a huge assortment of angles. It's not going to be a good time for him.
If instead, Cote turns up the aggression, he's got a very good chance of wearing the 39 year old down. Le really only had gas for one round against Wanderlei Silva in his last fight before fading and he also lost to Scott Smith late in the third. If Cote can weather the storm against the martial arts expert, he's got a very good chance of scoring a second or third round knockout.
Bottom Line: This is a battle of a powerful kicker against an equally powerful puncher. There's going to be a lot of strikes thrown and it's going to be awesome. I truly believe that someone is going down here, whether it's via highlight reel kick or highlight reel power punch. Both Le and Cote have something to prove and they'll be swinging for the fences from the opening bell. My only pause is if Cote gets the jitters in his return and wilts a bit under the pressure, perhaps not engaging at all and forcing Le to set the pace. Either way, I'm predicting some big strikes being landed. This fight is a no-brainer for the main card.
Who will come out on top at UFC 148? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!