May 12, 2009

Cung Le may be on his way to movie stardom, but he still wants to get in the cage.

This year, the Strikeforce middleweight champion will have four movies in the can. Fighting, starring Channing Tatum, was released last month. Pandorum, with co-star Dennis Quaid, is due out Sept. 4. Video game adaptation Tekken is undergoing final touches. True Legend, with legendary fight coordinator WooPing, is in production.

Between takes, he sneaks in workouts, trying to stay in shape for an eventual return to the cage.

"Every time I'm on set, I have to be focused on whatever I'm doing," Le said. "But I'm training while I'm on set, just to stay in shape. That pushes me because I've got to stay in good shape to potentially defend my title. If I get a little break, I'm doing something."

The physical demands, while difficult, pale compared to the average fight camp.

"Fight coordination and doing stunts is hard on the body, but it's a lot more fun, because at the end of the day, nobody's trying to take your head off," he said.

A movie career, though, needs as much tending as a fight career, and he has to get it while the getting's good. It places him at odds with his other job as a belt holder in an emerging MMA promotion.

The shape of Le's return is the question on everyone's mind.

Since the acquisition of EliteXC fighters, Strikeforce's 185-pound division has changed immeasurably. There's enough top-tier talent for two years of middleweight challengers.

Le picked Frank Shamrock, from whom he took the belt, to beat Nick Diaz at the promotion's exclusive Showtime debut last month. Had Shamrock won, he was a logical welcome for a return.

That rematch is now in severe jeopardy, and many of the remaining options may not favor Le, especially with a year-plus layoff. But he says he has no preference for a first fight.

"Frank and I have that chemistry, and we both come to fight," said Le. "Nick comes to fight. I don't know what's going to happen. It would be great to fight Frank again. I don't know if Nick's going to stay in the division. There's a whole bunch of other great middleweights in the division, too."

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker assures his return by the fourth quarter of the year. Le doesn't offer a timetable. His other gig is going full steam.

"I definitely plan on returning to the cage as soon as possible, but right now I have a couple of things in the works," he said.

He doesn't, however, want the fans to think he's forgotten about them, or think he's lost his taste for the cage.

"I definitely have that itch, and I've been training, and you can ask my coach Javier Mendez and Josh Thomson -- I'm always working," he said.

Thomson doesn't need convincing, "His heart could be halfway into it and he could still beat almost all of the top 185-pound fighters out there."

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