source: Mike Chiappetta | mmafighting.com
After a 19-month layoff, Cung Le will finally return to fighting when he faces Vitor Belfort at UFC 139 on November 19. That's a lengthy layoff for anyone, but especially long for Le, who turned 39 years old in May. But while most lengthy periods of inactivity are the result of injury issues or contract disputes, the flashy fighter wasn't gone due to rehabilitating from surgery or holding out for more money. He was busy making films.
While he had spoken to the UFC several months ago about possibly joining them, things didn't come together for the two sides until after the UFC moved its original UFC 139 main event of Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos up one week to the UFC on FOX premiere.
That left a hole at the top of the card, and Le was more than happy to fill it.
"I feel honored and very excited," Le said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "It's just nerves and everything going on. It's been pretty exciting."
Le said he wasn't quite sure how he got out of his Strikeforce deal to move over to the UFC, leaving specifis to his management, but said he originally began lobbying UFC executives Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White for the opportunity during the Zuffa "Fighter Summit" back in May.
At the time, Le was coming off the taping of back-to-back-to-back film projects and spending time with his family. He says Fertitta told him they'd look to work a fight out for him depending on his movie schedule, but nothing of substance happened until about two weeks ago, when talks were reignited. In a short time, he was approached with an offer.
"Vitor was the only one offered to me, and when they said, 'Hey Cung, we'd like you to fight Vitor,' I said yes," he said. "Go big or go home."
Le said his interest in the matchup comes from the two fighters' backgrounds. Both he and Belfort gained their reputations as strikers. All seven of Le's pro MMA wins are by knockout and prior to that, he gained renown as a pro kickboxer. Belfort, meanwhile, is considered one of the sport's all-time great knockout artists.
"We'll find out who's more dangerous come November 19," he said.
Le said he had signed a six-fight deal with UFC, but said that when it comes to his future, he plans to take things one fight at a time. Le said that in hopes of extending his career as far as it will go, he keeps himself healthy, eating well and consistently training. He also noted he hasn't had a lengthy MMA career which might have led to wear and tear on his body.
The first of those fights comes in San Jose, California, which is Le's hometown. He also trains at the city's American Kickboxing Academy gym. Last Saturday, Le was in Cincinnati and watched in person AKA's huge weekend at Strikeforce, when the gym's fighters (Luke Rockhold, Daniel Cormier, Muhammed Lawal and Mike Kyle) went 4-0. That made Le hungry to return home and get back in the gym to represent his team, and his town in the biggest fight of his career.
"It's a dream," Le said. "It's like coming full circle. My first MMA fight was in San Jose, and now my first UFC fight is going to be in San Jose. Definitely, I'm very excited about it."