Interview with Cung Le

September 22, 2009 recently sat down with former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cung Le to discuss a variety of topics including vacating the Strikeforce title, MMA fighters transitioning to the entertainment field, and Le’s numerous side projects.

KP: I guess we’ll start with the obvious question that I’m sure you’ve answered more than a few times now: why was vacating the belt the right move? I ask in part, because the answer is the perfect segue to the bulk of our interview today.

CL: It was the right move, because I haven’t been able to defend my title, and it’s been over a year and a half now. I’ve been busy with films, so I felt like the promoter putting up the interim belt was because he was awaiting my return soon. But I felt that since I’ve been gone so long and I’m not ready to do a five rounder, I needed to take a step back and vacate the belt so the top fighters in Strikeforce could have a shot.

KP: If you do come back, how many fights will you have left on the contract with Strikeforce?

CL: I’ll have four fights left.

KP: There seem to be a lot of guys moving from MMA into entertainment. What would you say is the main motivation there: fame, fortune, experience, or something else?

CL: Well, I wouldn’t say that there are a lot of guys moving into movies. I think that there’s a really small handful from Rampage to Randy, and now Gina and myself. It’s only a really small group like that, that are able to take part in studio films like Warner Bros or the other big studios.

I feel like it’s a good thing for the sport – it generates a lot more awareness. It gets a lot more MMA fans, or non-MMA people who don’t pay attention to MMA, to look at the names in MMA.

KP: The latest incident between Rampage Jackson and the UFC has raised some interesting questions in regards to how promotions should go about handling promoting fighters in the future – the success of a fighter is highly correlated to the promotional push he receives.

Where do you draw the line between completing your obligations to a promoter, but also at the same time looking out for your best interests and taking those opportunities as they come?

CL: The line for me – I can’t speak on Rampage’s part – is that I’ve always had an open line of communication with my promoter, Scott Coker. When we sit down and talk, we’re very strategic about how it needs to happen on both ends to make it a win-win situation.

On my end, I need to live up to the part where if I’m not competing, I’m always promoting Strikeforce in the best way that I can. In interviews, any radio, and any kind of media that I get outside of MMA, I always make sure to push Strikeforce in every way that I can. It’s always Strikeforce MW Champion Cung Le starring in Pandorum alongside Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster, or Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, Cung Le, starring in Fighting with Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard, etc. It may not be fair to the fans, but it’s fair to the promotion.

I know I also have an obligation to the fans, but I think that every time I’ve stepped in the cage, I’ve come to fight and put on a good show. I think most of the fans understand that, “hey, I’d be doing the same thing too if I had the opportunity to not get punched in the face, but still get paid.”

A lot of people don’t realize that I’m doing studio films that get released in theatres; whether they’re limited releases or full releases like Fighting and Pandorum. Also, when we go to DVD, I can expect to get a royalty cheque every three months in the mail.

KP: So, just to give the fans some idea of the film environment context: how many fights would you need to take in order to balance out what you might make on your next film?

CL: Basically it depends on the part. I think the best thing to say would be that I’m one to two movies away from making seven figures. You could say that my next project, I’m expecting to make three times as much for 8-10 weeks of film work as I would for one fight.

At the same time, I’ve got millions and millions of dollars behind the project and behind my name. It reflects back upon me, but also back upon Strikeforce because I’m the middleweight champion.

 You know, at one point I was training to fight while doing the movies, but now that the roles are getting bigger I no longer have the time to film during the day and train at night. I hardly have enough time in the morning to get prepared on set and make sure I’m ready to film; and when I’m done, I’m exhausted. I’m on the set for nearly 14 hours a day – it’s not just acting, but stunts and A-unit and B-unit and it really doubles your work.

It’s really demanding and there isn’t time to train, so I just try to stay in shape and feel good about myself and do the best I can on the movie set.

 KP: Speaking from your experience, then, can an MMA fighter do both? Can an MMA fighter do a movie for ten weeks and then flip right back into the training? Can they do it consistently?

CL: Only the most disciplined fighter can do that, and I was able to do that in the beginning – do a project while training to fight.

But, now that I’m at the higher level of fighting, I have to make sure that my camp is at the highest level. Likewise in the films, I’m now getting larger roles that prevent me from training, and it comes to the point where I can only do one or the other.

 I can’t do both at the same time like I used to – those fights are a little out of reach now, especially because the fights are getting really tough.

KP: What would be your advice for any fighters – like Rampage or any marketable fighter – looking to get into the film business? Do you have any advice that might help them?

CL: The first thing is that you make sure you take your acting classes – you’re only as good as your acting. They might cast you, but getting cast doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to do all the things that they ask of you. I would have never got Pandorum had I not gone through some pretty intensive classes to really prepare for the role.

Also make sure that you have an open line of communication with your promoter. You need to be able to parlay communication into something that’s going to work for both the promoter and yourself.

KP: Mind telling us about your new movie, Pandorum?

Yeah! I play the role of an agriculturalist on this ship. Basically this ship has 60,000 that they have recruited from different countries, and everyone is specialized in something, for the purpose of rebuilding another planet. It’s almost like Noah’s Arc, but it’s not like Star Trek where you can just jump to another system – it takes time to get from one solar system to another.

Over this period, everyone is staying in a sleep chamber to preserve their youth, so that when they get on this planet they’re able to re-start mankind. But, along the way people wake up and find that things aren’t going the way they should.

KP: When does it come out?

CL: It’ll be out on September 25th.

KP: I also understand you’ve got a deal with Round5 MMA to make a figurine, right?

CL: I’ve actually got two of them, and they’re both already out. The limited edition you can find on, and the other one can be found at Toys ‘R Us or KB Toys.

KP: You’re the consummate professional and a great self-promoter. Thanks for taking the time to speak with and we’re all looking forward to the day when you return to the cage!

CL: Thanks. I will be back!

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