Cung Le reacts after knocking out Rich Franklin. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
It could be argued that Cung Le the mixed martial artist has spent more time as a sideshow than a proven commodity; his entertaining style was offset by his lack of complete commitment to the sport as a budding film career drew his attention away from the cage.
That perception may have forever changed on Saturday, when he knocked out former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder Rich Franklin in the UFC on Fuel TV 6 main event at the CotaiArena in Macau, China. With “Ace” on the attack, Le countered a leg kick with a crippling right hook that sent the unconscious Franklin crashing to the canvas 2:17 into the first round.
It was a defining moment for the likable Le, who touched down in the UFC late last year after a successful stint in Strikeforce that included a memorable rivalry with Frank Shamrock and a brief reign as middleweight champion. A technical knockout loss to Wanderlei Silva in his promotional debut at UFC 139 had plenty questioning his place inside the Octagon. Did he belong? The question was answered in resounding fashion when Le’s clenched right fist connected with Franklin’s exposed jaw.
Still, at 40, Le comes with a limited shelf life, so the UFC will need to move quickly if it wants to capitalize on his upward trajectory. The Sanshou stylist does not figure to pose a serious threat to top-tier middleweights, but he could be quite the handful for the rest of the fighters who populate the 185-pound division.
Former Bellator Fighting Championships titleholder Hector Lombard will answer the bell against leg lock connoisseur Rousimar Palhares at UFC on FX 6 in December, the winner emerging as a logical next opponent for Le. Lombard had his 20-fight winning streak snapped against Tim Boetsch at UFC 149 in July, while Palhares finds himself on the rebound following a humbling defeat to Alan Belcher.
In the wake of UFC on Fuel TV 6 “Franklin vs. Le,” here are five other matchups that need to be made:
Rich Franklin vs. Tim Kennedy: After 37 professional appearances, 20 of them inside the UFC, Franklin may have a date with retirement. What else does he have left to accomplish? Let us assume for discussion’s sake that the 38-year-old trudges onward with his career. Few matchups make sense for a fighter of his stature, though Zuffa brass could conceivably use him to introduce some Strikeforce talent set to join the fold. Kennedy twice fought for the middleweight crown in Strikeforce and figures to bolster the UFC’s 185-pound ranks when he arrives.
Thiago Silva vs. Jimi Manuwa: Silva outlasted previously unbeaten Bulgarian Stanislav Nedkov, securing a fight-ending arm-triangle choke in the third round of their co-main event. Even in victory, his first in more than three years, the Brazilian looked nothing like the man who once struck fear in his opponents. Manuwa entered the Octagon with plenty of hype and lived up to his billing at UFC on Fuel TV 5 in September, demolishing Kyle Kingsbury over the course of two rounds. He has finished all 12 of his foes, nine of them inside one round.
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Rory MacDonald-B.J. Penn winner: Kim wants a rematch with 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Demian Maia, the man who defeated him by injury-related technical knockout at UFC 147. No one would argue with a settle-the-score sequel between the two, but after his one-sided trouncing of Paulo Thiago, perhaps Kim should aim a little higher on the 170-pound totem pole. MacDonald, whom many view as an heir apparent to longtime welterweight king Georges St. Pierre, will collide with a former two-division champion in Penn at UFC on Fox 5 next month in Seattle.
John Lineker vs. Darren Uyenoyama: The flyweight division has yet to plant deep roots in the UFC, as the promotion works to incorporate its 125-pounders. Lineker has engaged in memorable battles in each of his first two appearances inside the Octagon, pairing a granite chin with an aggressive, crowd-pleasing style. Just 22 years old, the Brazilian has rattled off 14 victories in his past 15 fights. Uyenoyama continues to fly under the radar despite a string of three consecutive wins that include a unanimous verdict over Japanese star Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto. The 33-year-old submitted Phil Harris with a second-round rear-naked choke at UFC on FX 5 in October.
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Mike Easton-Bryan Caraway winner: Mizugaki has alternated between wins and losses in his last 10 outings but remains a difficult proposition for anyone at 135 pounds. The 28-year-old former WEC title contender had no problem dispatching Jeff Hougland by unanimous decision, as he consolidated repeated takedowns with heavy ground-and-pound and airtight submission defense. Easton and Caraway will do battle on Dec. 8 in Seattle; the two bantamweights having combined for 11 straight wins between them.