UFC middleweight Cung Le will be in the main event of UFC on Fuel TV 6 this Saturday morning when he takes on Rich Franklin. Le, at 40 years old, and entering the fight having won only three times since March of 2008, needs a strong performance in order to justify his continued place in featured UFC bouts. At the same time, due to Le’s marketability, a victory over Franklin could catapult him further up the middleweight ranks than would otherwise be expected in the case of someone with a similar record.
For Le, the question is as much whether he cares about moving up the ladder as it is whether he has the ability to do so. That is not to say Le is lazy or lacks motivation, because he is a very serious martial artist who by all accounts has a strong work ethic in the gym. That being said, Le has undoubtedly had more on his mind than fighting in recent years. For instance, Le went so far as to forfeit his Strikeforce Middleweight Title in late 2009 to pursue a movie career that thus far has featured roles in such classics as Fighting and Tekken. Le’s priorities are further exemplified by him training with “Eric the Trainer,” who makes a living by training actors, actresses and celebrities. While it is difficult to fault Le for preferring to make money by doing something that doesn’t require him to get punched in the face, it is also not a recipe for beating someone as talented as Franklin.
Additionally, it is questionable whether Le has the game to beat Franklin even if he is entirely motivated to make a run at the middleweight title. While Le throws some of the most impressive kicks in the game, Franklin will not hesitate to close the distance and use his size advantage to rough up Le on the inside. Franklin’s game is diversified enough where he is relatively comfortable on the ground, standing, or in the clinch. This ability to mix things up could very well be too much for Le to handle, as Le would generally prefer a straight kickboxing affair.
If Cung Le does not perform well at UFC on Fuel TV this weekend, it will be difficult for the UFC to convince us that he is any threat to the middleweight division’s best. However, it seems unlikely that Le would be willing to continue his MMA career fighting mainly unknowns and up-and-comers. Considering this, a bad loss to Franklin could very well signal the end of Le’s relevance, and career, inside the octagon. The key question to be answered this weekend is how much Le cares about that possibility.