Le's win over Shamrock worth the wait

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SAN JOSE -- Fans in the Silicon Valley waited nearly a decade for Frank Shamrock to face off against Cung Le.

When the two fought finally Saturday night in a battle for the Strikeforce middleweight championship, nobody was disappointed.

Le used his kicks to keep Shamrock out of good punching range, and wrestled to stay away from Shamrock's submission skills for three rounds. The fight was stopped before Round 4 after Shamrock suffered a broken right forearm.

With the win, Le took his former training partner's title and became the first person to defeat Shamrock by stoppage under modern MMA rules.

The telling blow in this unique battle of San Jose residents in front of 16,326 fans at the HP Pavilion came after both men were bleeding from multiple wounds, when Le threw a kick that Shamrock blocked with his right forearm just before the end of the third round.

Le, who just a minute earlier was hanging on for dear life from a barrage of punches, knew immediately it was his night.

"I heard the bone snap," said Le, after a striking war that some are already comparing with the legendary Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar match of 2005 because of the intense crowd and the back-and-forth action.

Shamrock was taken to Valley Medical Center in San Jose and will undergo surgery to put a plate in the arm on Sunday morning. Co-promoter Gary Shaw of Elite XC, who handled the event along with the San Jose-based Strikeforce group, said after the show that the bone snapped in two.

The atmosphere was unique because the local fan base, which turned out to support both hometown Strikeforce fighters, was forced to take sides. And they did. Shamrock, who tries to hype fights in a pro wrestling manner, felt he had to be the villain to make the promotion work, but when he talked about loving the city and looking forward to raising a family there in a video interview, the crowd's boos turned to cheers.

When the fight started, Le had a little more support, but both men were both heavily cheered – and heavily booed – in an arena filled with yellow Vietnamese flags waving for Le, and almost as many red Shamrock flags.

Still, when Le established dominance in a close first round using his educated feet, the crowd began favoring him. His kicks kept Shamrock out of range, forcing Shamrock to throw a lot of ineffective lunging punches.

Until the break, it was still anyone's match, as the judges were split on Round 1, Le clearly won Round 2, and Shamrock was winning Round 3 until the kick.

"I didn't know," Le said regarding if he thought he was winning the fight. "I thought the first round was real close. I thought I took the second round."

With the exception of a few moments, the fight was all standing. Shamrock, now 27-9-2 overall and 10-3 in what would be considered modern MMA competition, had said from the start he was going to stand, but Le had said he thought Shamrock was playing mind games.

Shamrock would change levels and Le would try to defend his takedowns, and that was when Shamrock would change levels again and land punches. But Le did escape from a bad position when Shamrock got behind him, and again when they were on the ground and Shamrock went for a guillotine.

Le said this was his toughest fight, and said at first he was in awe because he was facing a legend. He said initially he freaked out when Shamrock got his back, joking it was like you're a little kid and a spider is crawling on you, but he calmed himself down noting he's been training hard in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and escaped two potentially bad predicaments.

The last time Shamrock, who held what is now known as the UFC light heavyweight championship from 1997-99, was stopped in any form of competition was in a Pancrase match in 1996, before he had begun any serious striking training.

It was almost an even more topsy-turvy night for Shamrock, whose wife Amy, due to give birth in five weeks to the couple's first child, started having contractions at the arena, but it was a false alarm.

Le talked after the fight about potentially defending his title against either 2006 Pride middleweight Grand Prix champion Kazuo Misaki, or Elite XC middleweight champion Robbie Lawler.

Gilbert Melendez, 14-1, one of the world's top rated lightweights, dominated Pat Miletich fighter Gabe Lemley to retain the Strikeforce lightweight title. Melendez kept the fight on the ground and had Lemley hanging on most of the way, before finishing him in 2:18 of the second round with a barrage of strikes on the ground.

Drew Fickett's disappointment at not getting his expected Elite XC welterweight title shot due to a back injury against opponent Jake Shields, was somewhat turned around as he quickly finished South Korea's Jae Suk Lim, the Spirit MC champion in that weight class, with a guillotine in 1:13 of the first round. Shields was in the ring and agreed to face Fickett on a June 14 show in Honolulu that will be broadcast on Showtime.

In the knockout of the night, Joe Villasenor, in a fight that started slow but ended with a wild last minute, put Ryan Jensen down hard with an overhand right at 4:45 of the first round.

Other notes: Shaw said K.J. Noons would defend the Elite XC lightweight title against Yves Edwards on the June 14 show in Honolulu. He said he expected to announce the main event for the first major network MMA show on May 31 from Newark, N.J., involving Kimbo Slice, on Monday, saying he wasn't sure if the bout agreements for a proposed fight had been signed and didn't want to jump the gun.