“I just wanted to fight in the UFC, whether it is in San Jose or somewhere else, but being in San Jose makes it even more exciting. I'll be ready to rock and roll...” - Cung Le
“Finally, we’re here.” - UFC President Dana White
On November 19th, the UFC will plant its proverbial flag for the first time into a new market: San Jose, California. Over the past few years, fight fans have gotten used to seeing the Octagon heading overseas and holding events in a new country seemingly ever few months. But one MMA hot bed stateside has eluded the UFC for years because it was the home for former rival promotion Strikeforce. Now, with both fight organizations under the Zuffa umbrella, the Octagon will be up and running at UFC 139 at the HP Pavilion featuring two dream matchups: Wanderlei Silva vs. Cung Le and Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
The stars of these main event bouts, plus UFC President Dana White, were in California’s third largest city for a pre-fight press conference Tuesday to answer questions from the media and the adoring public in attendance. It was a dais of living legends without a title on the line between them, but each one is not unused to the feel of gold around their waist or the spotlight that comes with it. From left to right: former PRIDE middleweight champion Silva, former UFC light heavyweight champion Rua, former PRIDE middleweight and welterweight champion and former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Henderson and, finally, former Strikeforce middleweight champion Le. Nevertheless, that is the past and these highly regarded fighters are all excited and focused on their future fights at UFC 139.
Arguably, the fighter most eagerly anticipating November 19th is South Vietnam’s “The Human Highlight Reel” Le. “I have fought on many platforms, but fighting in the UFC in the co-main event is a dream come true,” says Le, 39, who will be making his Octagon debut against Silva after competing in MMA solely for Strikeforce in San Jose and, prior to that, a nearly unparalleled international kickboxing career. “I just wanted to fight in the UFC, whether it is in San Jose or somewhere else, but being in San Jose makes it even more exciting. I'll be ready to rock and roll and give the fans what they want to see.”
It will be nearly 17 months since Le’s last fight when he squares off with “The Axe Murderer” Silva. The long layoff from cagefighting was to make room for Le’s second job as an actor. Le’s only loss on his 7-1 record was after a similar layoff to make movies following the winning of the Strikeforce middleweight belt from Frank Shamrock by a third round TKO. Le returned to action 21 months later and suffered a third round KO at the hands of Scott Smith in December of 2009. The next June, the two had a rematch where Le was victorious via spinning back kick and punches in the second.
“I learned my lesson the first time when I came back against Scott Smith,” admits Le. “This time I made sure I trained everyday and stayed in shape and when I got back to the states I got back into the gym. I've been training since February, so I'll be ready to get back in.”
Le will need his entire arsenal of fancy kicks and punches as Le faces the brawling power of Silva.
At 35 years old with a stellar MMA legacy spanning 15 years and nearly 50 pro fights, Silva is in an awkward situation, fighting to stay in the UFC after suffering a quick knockout loss to Chris Leben at UFC 132. “Some guys fight better in that position - I think I am one of those guys,” asserts Silva, who clearly still has the desire to compete in the Octagon, and at UFC 139, he must prove to UFC President White he still has the tools to do so. “I love to fight. I love this sport. I grew up inside the ring, the Octagon. I want to fight as long as I can.”
In the evening’s main event, a clash between two former PRIDE champions, “Shogun” and Henderson, has possible UFC light heavyweight title implications.
This bout with Rua marks the beginning of Henderson’s third stint in the UFC. “It’s a little bit ironic, I win a title somewhere and Dana buys the company to get me back,” joked Henderson, who recently won the Strikeforce light heavyweight belt in March with a TKO win over Rafael Cavalcante and, less than five months later, defeated the near mythical Fedor Emelianenko by TKO in a well publicized heavyweight bout. “Strikeforce has a number of guys who are tough and I think I fought the toughest guys there and coming up I wasn't too excited about anyone else. I guess it was a good time for the UFC to come in and swoop up Strikeforce.”
A multi-weight divisional fighter, Henderson was asked about returning to middleweight or sticking to light heavyweight, “I prefer to fight light heavyweight; I'm not fond of cutting weight anymore.” But Henderson did allude to one fight in particular that could lure him into shedding those 20 pounds: a rematch with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. But before any of that can be hypothesized, Henderson must tangle with another Muay Thai specialist: “Shogun” Rua.
In his last fight before he turns 30 at the end of November, “Shogun” would love nothing more than to score a knockout over another vaunted opponent. “My goal is to get back to fighting for the light heavyweight title,” says Rua, who lost the 205-pound belt to Jon Jones in March, but rebounded at UFC 134 with a first round KO of Forrest Griffin that furthered his pro record to 20-5 (17 KOs). “Dan Henderson is a tough fighter and has been a standout since the PRIDE days That was a fight that the fans wanted to see back then. I'm sure that it will be a crowd pleaser.”
For the first time in company history, the UFC is invading San Jose, starting on November 19th at the HP Pavilion. On paper, these two featured bouts will be standup wars headlined by illustrious former champions. In the co-main event, “The Human Highlight Reel” Le and his seven wins (all by KO/TKO stoppages) will face the brutal, Brazilian fist bombs of “The Axe-Murderer” Silva. In the main event, Henderson’s heavy hands that have TKOed his last three opponents will tangle with probably the most exciting knockout artist of his generation, “Shogun” Rua. There may be no belts on the line, but UFC 139 is gearing up to give San Jose a “Knockout of the Night” that they will never forget.