Twenty-one months is too long.

Former Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le has not fought since winning the title from Frank Shamrock on Mar. 29, 2008. In the interim, Le has made a run in the acting world.

He worked on three major films: Fighting, Pandorum, and Tekken.

Now, somewhat surprisingly, Le returns to the cage to take on another striker in Scott Smith. What makes the timing even more interesting is that Le surrendered the middleweight belt just one month ago.

"I didn't know I was going to fight this year," Le said when asked about forfeiting the title. "Why hold the belt hostage? For me, I felt it was the honorable thing to do if I wanted to do both (act and fight)."

Not all the fighters in Strikeforce would agree with Le's decision to vacate. Current middleweight champion Jake Shields was very outspoken about Le's decision.

"Cung (Le) won't fight me," Shields said. "That's why he vacated the belt then fights one month later."

Not that surprisingly, Le has a much different take on the situation.

"Everything happened really quickly," Le said. "A movie project was recently moved to next year. I didn't know I was going to fight."

Should a potential fight against Shields come to pass, Le won't be the one trash-talking up the fight. He'll leave that to Shields.

"We come from different backgrounds," Le said about Shields. "I'm more respectful. I don't need to talk smack about anyone. I have respect for anyone who steps into a cage. I'm glad I don't have his attitude.

"Jake Shields can say whatever he wants to say. I have a bigger name than Jake Shields. Jake is going to use my name to get as much publicity as possible. It's not going to be the first time someone has done that, and it won't be the last."

Clearly, Le is not pleased with Shields' comments, but before thinking about Shields, the former Sanshou star has a formidable task in front of him this Saturday night in slugger Scott Smith.

Smith sports a 2-1 Strikeforce record. He has already been involved in two classic brawls (a win over Benji Radach and a loss to Nick Diaz). Smith also knocked out Terry Martin in just 24 seconds.

Smith, the former Ultimate Fighter competitor, is known for a straight-ahead aggressive style.

"I think Scott Smith is going to put a lot of pressure on me," Le said, "but I fight better when someone is coming right at me."

If Le is successful against Smith, he'll have to decide what to do next -- act or fight.

"It's hard to balance," Le said. "I've been filming for the past two years. At the same time, I'm a fighter first and I live this.

"I want to see if I can pick up where I left off against Frank (Shamrock), but I want to have a couple more fights."

Le's comeback to MMA will start as the main event for this Saturday's Showtime card. He is pleased to be in such a high-profile matchup for his first fight back.

"The card is stacked," said Le. "As the main event, we definitely have a big task ahead of us.

"I know it's going to be a shootout."

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