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Cung Le: The Most Underrated Elite Fighter in the UFC

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COMMENTARY | Even though Cung Le (9-2-0, 8 knockouts) is one of the most accomplished fighters to join the UFC's ranks, he doesn't seem to get a lot respect from casual MMA fans and oddsmakers alike. Le has been the underdog in his three fights with the promotion, yet, he's emerged victorious twice.

After a successful kickboxing/Sanshou career, Le decided to give MMA a try at the age of 34. He went 6-0 fighting under the Strikeforce banner, before losing to UFC veteran, Scott Smith, in 2009 -- after dominating the first two rounds of their fight. Cung avenged his loss to Smith a few months later, before jumping over to the UFC.

Many didn't give Cung much of a chance heading into his UFC debut against Wanderlei Silva, but the highly decorated Sanshou master held his own against "The Axe Murderer." Unfortunately for Le -- who seemed preoccupied with his acting career at the time -- his cardio failed him during the second round of their UFC 139 encounter, robbing him of what should have been his first victory in the promotion, as Silva capitalized and stopped him with a vicious series of knees.

If his cardio was a little better during his UFC debut against Silva, "The Man with the Iron fist" would be 3-0 in the promotion.

Le was in better shape for his second UFC fight against Patrick Cote, and it paid dividends inside the Octagon. He outclassed Cote in the standup department at UFC 148, surprising MMA fans by mixing in a few takedowns as well. Le won the fight via unanimous decision, yet many were dismissive of Le's accomplishments once again, claiming it was a tailor-made fight for the former Strikeforce champion.

Cung's latest victory against former middleweight champion, Rich Franklin, is his best performance inside the Octagon so far, as he displayed his world-class striking skills against a former UFC champion. Le countered a low-kick from Franklin with a vicious right hand a little over two minutes into their "UFC on Fuel TV 6" encounter, knocking "Ace" out cold, sending him to the canvas face first. Cung earned the "Knockout of the Night" honors with the spectacular finish.

Even though Le's experience in MMA is limited, he's well-rounded enough to deal with anything his opponents throw at him inside the Octagon. He's a vastly underrated wrestler, even though he's hardly been taken down throughout his career.

Le's accomplishments in Sanshou makes him one of the most proficient strikers in the UFC, and only a few fighters in the division match up well against his unorthodox striking techniques. The former International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) Sanshou light-heavyweight champion hasn't really showed any holes in his grappling, but he's yet to compete against an aggressive, high-caliber wrestler.

Given how good Le's takedown defense has looked so far in his MMA career, he should be up to the task, when the UFC finally decides to pair him up against one of the best wrestlers in the division.

With his performance against Franklin at UFC on Fuel TV 6, Le established himself as a serious contender in the middleweight division, and he's earned the right to challenge one of the top contenders at 185 pounds.

Given the fact current middleweight champion, Anderson Silva, is only interested in big-name fights at this point in his career; a fight featuring "The Spider" and Le wouldn't be a bad idea -- provided the Vietnam native wins a few more fights.

Le would probably end up falling short -- like all those who dare step up to Silva -- but it would be a rare treat to see two technically elite strikers duke it out inside the Octagon.

David is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and boxing practitioner that has watched and studied MMA for the past 7 years. Follow him on twitter @davidkingwriter and check out his blog.

Sources:

Fight and fighter information from Sherdog.com

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