UFC Fighter Cung Le Returns to His Chinese Martial Arts Roots

Share Article

Why is this charismatic, Asian fighting champion and film star who has nothing to prove to the MMA world, still committed to fighting UFC regardless of his injury?

Cung Le's Early Years in Mobile, AL

Young Cung Le at age of 22

He had me out there doing four thousand kicks a day; he is a hard trainer, but that’s what it takes.”

Saturday, November 10th, UFC’s first ever event in China will feature the world famous Asian MMA fighter and four time world champion, Cung Le aka: “the Technician” vs. former light heavyweight fighter Rich “Ace” Franklin, who is returning to the middleweight division, beginning his attempt to recapture the division title he once held.

The highly publicized UFC event will be held at the Cotai Arena in Macau, China where the premier fighter, Cung Le will challenge his opponent in spite of the fact that Le has suffered a broken foot. So, why is this charismatic, Asian fighting champion and beloved film star who has nothing to prove to the MMA world, still committed to fighting UFC regardless of his injury?

To answer that question, one need only look at the life challenges and obstacles this Vietnamese born American hero faced in the pursuit of his dream. Who better to unveil that story than Cung Le’s Shaolin mentor and long-time US national team Sanshou coach, Shawn Liu Xianyang, a Shaolin Grand Master and the founder and Headmaster of Shaolin Institute in the United States?

In 1994 a 22-year-old Vietnamese American, a Kung Fu, Tae Kwan Do martial artist and Greco-Roman Wrestling fighter phoned Grand Master Shawn Liu Xianyang numerous times, wanting to know everything there was to know about the art of Sanshou sport fighting. Desiring a full contact martial arts fighting style where his speed, agility, power and strength could be used to their full advantage, Le was drawn to “Sanshou”, where Chinese rules allow kicking, punching, interception, throws, and “takedowns”.

The more Cung Le learned, the greater his conviction to mastering the art of Sanshou sport fighting, prompting him to travel from his home in California to Liu’s training center (before it became Shaolin Institute Cultural Arts Campus) in Mobile, Alabama, where Shawn Liu taught Shaolin culture and martial arts. Often referred to as “the Godfather of Sanshou in America” by the worldwide media, Master Liu Xianyang was the leading authority on Sanshou/Sanda in the United States, uniquely qualifying him to teach and develop the fighting style in this talented, determined athlete.

Shawn Liu Xianyang, known as “Shifu” (Teaching Father) to his students, personally sponsored Cung Le, as he has done for hundreds of students over the years, who had talent and desire, but not the means to support themselves. Master Liu Xianyang rented an apartment to Le and two other fighters-in-training, feeding them, and funding their training and competition expenses while mentoring them in the Shaolin culture with it’s emphasis on integrity, self-discipline, and ultimate mind/body conditioning.

In a July 1997 interview featured in Kung Fu magazine, Cung Le credited Liu Xianyang saying that, “much of his Sanshou training was done with (Coach Shawn) Liu, coach of the US Sanshou Team for the world event.” Cung Le further stated, without hesitation, “Shawn (Liu Xianyang) has been like a father to me, and I owe a lot to him. He had me out there doing four thousand kicks a day; he is a hard trainer, but that’s what it takes.”

While Cung Le certainly had “what it takes”, his path to World Champion status was anything but easy. In 1995, during a joint sparring/training session at the University of South Alabama with the visiting Chinese Special Army fighters, Le delivered a devastating scissor kick to the head of a top Army fighter, badly shattering his skull. Having no medical insurance, the army fighter was slated to return to China for treatment, a journey he undoubtedly would not have survived. Master Liu paid the medical expenses for the fighter to remain in the U.S. and receive life saving medical treatment. But Cung’s powerful fighting style would result in three cracked heads by year-end, prompting an agreement between Le and Master Liu Xianyang to limit the kicking technique to the opponent’s body.

Le fell short of his first gold medal opportunity at the World Championship in Baltimore where he weighed in at 76kg fighting in an 80kg weight class against larger, more experienced fighters. He was robbed of a second World Championship medal while competing in Italy, when an opponent claimed Le had delivered an illegal kick to the groin. Upon review of the film and after the Italian doctor’s examination produced solid evidence that the kick was a fair kick to the opponent’s thigh, not the groin, the championship committee refused to correct the call. Master Liu Xianyang appealed the committee’s decision on behalf of his protégé as well as the sport of Sanshou fighting, in order to ensure that the high standards of fairness established by the Olympic Federation be maintained.

Then, in 1999 Cung Le suffered a third devastating loss at the Wushu World Sanshou Championship in Hong Kong. After eating a contaminated apple, he contracted a life threatening case of Dysentery 10 days before the competition began. Weak and badly dehydrated, Le demonstrated what true champions are made of, fighting and defeating each opponent one by one until the final bout where, deathly ill and totally exhausted, Le was defeated by a strong Russian fighter.

One measure of a true champion is perseverance, and that is exactly what Le epitomized through these difficult trials. In 1999, as a member of the U.S. Fighting Team under coach Shawn Liu Xianyang, Cung Le competed against the Chinese Fighting Team in Hawaii. There he defeated the previously undefeated Mongolian king by absolute victory.

In 1998 and 1999 he competed in one of the most brutal tournament in the MMA world, the Martial Arts Fighting Triathlon in Chicago. Having met with defeat in 1998, Le returned to the event in 1999 with the support and encouragement of Coach Liu and won the Triathlon by TKO, demonstrating once again, the staying power of a true champion.

Athletes the caliber of Cung Le are few and far between. He is a credit to Shaolin Institute and to his devoted mentor and coach, Shawn Liu Xianyang and many others that helped him. So when he faces Rich Franklin in UFC November 10th with a broken foot, do not discount him, for this is just another challenge on the journey that has yielded a most remarkable MMA champion and a man the Asian community can be proud of.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print