One of the sport's most feared and ferocious strikers welcomes an intriguing, traditional martial arts stylists to the big leagues. Wanderlei Silva vs. Cung Le captains the co-main slot tonight at UFC 139: Henderson vs. Rua.
Wanderlei Silva: the Chute Boxe legend, Vale Tudo bad ass, No Holds Barred and bare-knuckle brawler, Muay Thai wrecking machine, panic-inducing Pride champion, and overall contrivance of pure highlight reel devastation.
Cung Le: part-time movie star, undefeated San Shou practitioner, three-time bronze medalist in the Wushu World Championships, bearer of a novel's worth of kickboxing and striking credentials that is exhausting to read in its entirety, AAU Freestyle and Greco Roman national wrestling champion, California state high school wrestling All American, and whirling dervish of battle-proven techniques that only seemed viable in poorly dubbed 1970's Kung Fu cinema.
It will be eerie to behold what is basically a style vs. style match up at this point of MMA's highly evolved state, and on its biggest and brightest stage to boot.
Of course, Silva's career has taken a nose-dive of late, winning only two of his six UFC bouts and separated from consciousness in half of his losses. Conversely, Le has been gallivanting around Hollywood training for the silver screen more than the cage, has only competed three times in the last three years, equating to less than one-fifth of Silva's extensive career, none of which was contested at the premiere level.
That, in a nutshell, is the glamorized good and the bare-bones bad, yet I'm probably looking forward to this clash more so than any other.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Shame on you if you can't nostalgically visualize at least a half-dozen of the twenty-four vicious knockouts that "The Axe Murderer" has dealt over the years. Since the turn of the millennium, many of us have been utterly baffled how Wand could consistently defy logic and reason by just clobbering hapless foe after hapless foe.
It went down like this: you'd been debating the next challenger's chances on the internet the entire week beforehand, reading the endless observations about how exposed Wand should be to counter-punches from a more "technical striker" and how his slug-it-out punching obviously works, but "sure seems sloppy."
The spark of palpable anticipation began with the signature rotation of blue leather-clad fists to loosen up his wrists for a good old fashioned beatdown while the camera zoomed in for a close up of his bloodthirsty snarl.
Following that was unquestionably the most intimidating and soul-chilling staredown in sports history.
The bell would ring, the Japanese audience would let out a loud, collective gasp of exhilaration before going drop-dead silent, Wanderlei Silva would assume the form of a raging, berserk, bald-headed typhoon, and any living creature within the perimeter of his violence would just fall over and take a nap.
Blood, bandages, stretchers, oxygen masks, and a genuine concern for the well being of the lifeless corpse on the canvas were not uncommon. However, the sentimental glory of a bouquet of flowers and yet another quart-sized trophy in the champion's hands quickly enraptured us and we stood up and cheered our televisions at four in the morning on the other side of the earth.
Unfortunately, most of the newer fans were barely privy to such classic moments and have only the inflated embellishments of pretentious bloggers.
Though his intentions and mentality are still exactly the same, Silva's high mileage is evident. A decade of eating punches in the ring and in intense training has inevitably softened his chin, he's moving a step or two slower and the critical internet analysis was actually prophetic and simply evinced many years later than anyone thought.
Now, his BJJ black belt and wickedly technical Thai clinch has been amiss, as Wand handles everything with wild rights and lefts slung crudely from his waistline. Everyone knows damn well what Silva is going to do, and a transparent game plan combined with a shaky chin, a porous defense and a puncher's chance do not bode well against an artistic striking purist with a battleship clinch game.
The first thing that should jump out in this gif is the very pronounced and uncanny footwork Cung Le delivers the kick with.
Balance is like your first true love -- it doesn't seem like that big of a deal until you lose it. Only then do you really understand how screwed you are without it.
The way Le maintains such a strong foundation allows him to turn on a dime, pack a ton of power into his strikes and be in the perfect position to react, either offensively or defensively.
His footwork is nonpareil and makes for a confusing puzzle to predict. Though clearly a big fan of spinning kicks, Le constantly switches up his attacks. He'll start with the same advance and footwork but flash out a different technique from a fresh angle, then he'll change it up again.
This ploy along with his highly unorthodox striking techniques leaves no pattern to be detected when he's pressing the action. He's also a brilliant counter-puncher and has -- dare I say -- a Machida-esque level of elusive movement. He hasn't tangled with top shelf opposition, but he'll match Wand's primitive, caveman-like approach with a highly polished, world-class level of stand up.
Further to his striking mystique, the most encouraging part of Cung Le's San Shou mastery is the anomaly of its attention to takedowns.
In fact, the first time I saw Cung Le fight in San Shou he was tossing some poor fellow all around the ring with a library of low singles and double-legs, hip tosses, and even a flying scissors takedown for good measure. His skills have always been well tailored to MMA, especially when factoring in his wrestling background, so the question is whether he can pull it off against the big boys.
His lackadaisical schedule and long layoff might be significant enough to outweigh Wand's physical decline and -- let's be real -- if Scott Smith can catch him, Wand sure as hell can. Still, Smith endured almost three full rounds of punishment before he mounted the comeback knockout, and Wand might not be able to replicate that particular aspect.
I'm hanging my neck out here for Cung Le, as much as it pains me to admit. When he's on, his footwork alone wreaks havoc and he should have an innate grasp of range of distance and the complex striking to find the openings.
My Prediction: Cung Le by TKO
Wand vs. Jardine gif via FightReport.net
Cung Le gifs via mmabloggen.blogspot.com