This past Saturday morning saw a 40 year old Cung Le throw a devastating right hook that planted former UFC middleweight champion, Rich Franklin, face down on the mat. That haymaker won him the fight, as well as knockout of the night honors. It was the culmination of a long journey of press tours, both for the UFC and for The Man With The Iron Fists, as well as a tougher than normal training camp, due to nagging injuries and surgical recovery. After long periods of inactivity while fighting under the Strikeforce banner, Cung has fought three times in less than a year, silencing critics that had complaints of him not fighting enough.
Since the fight, chatter has zipped around social media and combat sports forums about his future. How long will he continue to fight? Will he meet Anderson Silva in the octagon before he finishes out his career? How is his body holding up under the strain of training and competing at the highest level? I recently spoke with Cung, and got his thoughts on a myriad of topics including those aforementioned questions, and I spoke with his new trainer, former kickboxer, Scott Sheeley, whose methods are proving to be very successful with several other UFC fighters. Here's what they both had to say:
I just didn't know what to say at the moment. I really like Rich as a person, and I was happy and sad at the same time during those moments immediately following the fight. I was also very concerned for him. I didn't know what to say, so that's what came out.
If you watch the fight carefully, I threw that same counter hook two times before the third one finally landed. The gameplan that Scott Sheeley and I put together, we simulated all kinds of different patterns that Rich has. I thought Rich was going to come out and try to take me down to try and tire me out, but I was prepared to go five rounds. That was the biggest goal that we focused on. I wasn't going to give up any real estate just because Rich had the reach Every time he would either establish his jab or throw his left lead, I would either have to take the punch or be in the pocket, and that was our gameplan, to stay right in his face. If he was in the punching range, I would punch, and if he was in the kicking range, I would kick. We studied a lot of his film, and every time he backs out, his hands were down. Our whole goal was to stand in the pocket with him, and catch him on the way out.
'I felt something pull in my arm'
It was my elbow, not my shoulder. I threw the punch, and threw my whole body into it. When I clipped him, I felt like the punch went right through me. It kind of jolted my elbow a little bit. I've also got a big dent in my shin, and the elbow is probably sore from all the wear and tear of the training camp. I felt like when I connected with that punch, I punched straight through my target. The elbow is just a little sore, but I'm going to get it checked out in the next couple of days. As far as my shins, I couldn't really condition them since the Patrick Cote fight, so my shins got a little bit soft.
Fans constantly calling for fighter retirements
That really upsets me. I mean, a lot of people said that I should have retired after Wanderlei Silva, but if I would have taken everyone's advice and retired, then they wouldn't have had two more great fights against Patrick Cote and Rich Franklin. I think people should keep their opinions to themselves and let the fighters decide their own careers. It's the fighters that step in that octagon to entertain everyone. We, as fighters, come to put it all on the line and fight our hearts out, and people should respect that, and keep their comments to themselves.
Fighting with injuries
A lot of people don't know this, but right when I came back from doing my media tour in China, directly before training camp for the Franklin fight, my left elbow was really bugging me and locking up. It turned out to be bone spurs. The doctor found a whole bunch of them that were blocking my range of motion, so it was either go through the whole camp suffering, or get the bone spurs out. I decided that I was going to fight, no matter what, so I got them out. The whole training camp, I was also rehabbing my elbow. I had them when I fought Patrick Cote, but I didn't feel them as much. The wear and tear finally caught up with me right afterward, though. Fortunately, everything worked out well, and I'm just thankful I was able to go in there and perform the way I did.
We actually have a couple projects in the works, but I haven't really gotten a chance to sit down and focus on them yet. Everything has been focused on this fight. We'll figure it out. I just want to enjoy a little time off, and then we'll go from there. From last November to this November, I've fought three times. I would just like to enjoy the holidays and some time off with my family. I believe the UFC is going to make a big push in Asia, and we're working on an ambassador deal between myself and them, so we'll see what happens.
Working with Scott Sheeley
Even though I'm preforming at a high level, I am in my twilight years. The key thing for my performance is about focusing the camp just on me. Scott is very scientific with his methods, and he knows my style better than anyone. Javier Mendez has a stable full of guys, whereas Scott is just focusing on me. You can look at my performance and see the difference. I don't want to take anything away from Javier, but it's better for me this way. All the time I need, I get with Scott. It's not one of these, 'Hey, are you gonna hold pads for me today, or do your elbows hurt because you're holding for so many guys?' type things.(It should be noted that Cung trained with Mendez for the Silva fight, and has been with Sheeley for his last two fights, both of which were wins)
I haven't even thought about a fight like that. I'm just thinking about what my next meal is going to be [laughs]. I'm thinking about what kind of dessert am I getting. I'm thinking about playing with my kids, and strategizing on how to keep up with them. I just want to enjoy this win, because it's the biggest win of my life. I'm going to spend time with my wife, eat some pizza, drink some wine, and have fun with my kids.
You can follow Cung via his Twitter account, @CungLe185
I was able to get some comments from Scott Sheeley about his work with Cung. Here's what he had to say:
Rich is just one of those guys you can't really say anything bad about. He's such a good guy. I actually trained with him for three or four years, and I actually consider him to be a good friend. That was one of the happiuest and saddest days for me. I was happy to see Cung get the knockout, but I was bummed to see Rich lose the fight like that.
As far as the training, we watched tapes, and it wasn't hard to come up with a gameplan. If I were cornering against Cung, I would try to take him down and pressure him, but Rich is a showman. I figured he would try to put on a show and stand with him. I actually thought we were going to catch him with the right kick, instead of the right hook. We had worked them both countless times, both on mitts and in sparring.
I think that was the poilite thing for Cung to do, saying it was luck, but there are quite a few pictures and video of us out there sparring. If you watch the video and look at the pictures, you can see that we worked on that lead right hook. We had noticed that Rich tends to dip and drop his hands a good bit in the pocket, and we were able to capitalize on that.
A lot of people don't realize that I also train Justin Edwards and Matt Brown. When Matt first came to me, he was on a three fight losing streak, and since being with me, and since being with me, is now 4-1. The first thing I do when I'm coaching a guy, is I go in and coach against him. I look for his weaknesses, and then try to figure out how to exploit them. Once I have that figured out, I try to fix them. Once we get an opponent, I start changing things, as far as their habits and strengths. I want to build off my fighter's strengths. I want to make them better. I'm not trying to teach them something that I'm good at.
You can follow Scott via his Twitter account, @ScottSheeley
As always, Cung has given me some exclusive photos for our readers. They are of his elbow, complete with stitches after the removal of bone spurs, his foot after a bloodletting, and one after his fight with Patrick Cote.