Cung Le to debut vs. Wanderlei Silva
From one Brazilian fighting icon to another, Cung Le's UFC debut has seen a shift in opponents.
UFC president Dana White announced on Twitter Wednesday that Vitor Belfort was out of the pay-per-view fight against Le, scheduled for Nov. 19 in San Jose, Calif., due to injury. The 34-year-old middleweight did not disclose the nature of the injury, yet via Twitter he indicated it's "nothing major" and expects to be ready to fight by December.
"The doctor required four weeks of intense [physiotherapy]," he wrote.
"It's an opportunity that's tough, if not impossible, to pass up," Silva's manager, Rob Cardenas, said.
Informed of the switch mid-morning Wednesday, Le (7-1) said he's "just excited getting matched up against legends of the sport."
The last time he fought a "legend" of MMA, Le broke Frank Shamrock's arm to secure a third-round TKO. The flashy but effective striker recently signed with the UFC from Strikeforce and will have been out of action for 17 months by the time he steps in against Silva.
"Vitor is coming off big wins and Wanderlei wants a win on his record to get back in the mix," Le said. "They're both dangerous opponents and I'm dangerous myself."
The Silva camp sees Le, 39, as a perfect opponent in the right spot, in part because there was a real chance he would not return to the UFC following the 27-second loss to Leben.
"[Le's] game is the same game as Wanderlei -- he likes to fight standing," said Rafiel Cordeiro, Silva's trainer. "It's really good for us. It's a great opportunity. We took this fight, we're just thinking of victory, not any other results.
"He expects a great fight. When he was asked about Cung Le he took the fight really fast because he wanted to come back as soon as possible. The whole team is really happy because he's back training with us on Monday."
That's been an iffy proposition since Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic knocked out Silva (33-11-1) with a head kick in 2006. Starting with that fight, the 35-year-old Brazilian is 2-6 and has been on the bad end of four concussive finishes. Still, Cordeiro believes one of his earliest disciples has something left.
"He needs to fight. He has the fighting spirit. He never gives up. He has huge heart," the trainer said about the former Pride 205-pound champion. "Sometimes everyone has a tough time. Being a fighter is hard. Sometimes you're an idol. Sometimes the guys want to fight you.
"You live in a hard moment in your life. Sometimes you're the man, sometimes you're the underdog. He knows that. He worked with the pressure for a long time. He knows what he needs to do to get victory again. He don't want to lose one more opportunity."
The chance to fight at UFC 139 also provides Silva with a chance to join his former Chute Boxe teammate Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, who meets Dan Henderson in the night's main event, for the first time since February 2007 when Pride debuted in Las Vegas.
"I think it will be a great feeling for the team," Cordeiro said. "We have two guys with great experience, two guys who worked together for a long, long time."
Le will prepare for the bout at his gym under the American Kickboxing Academy banner in San Jose, where he developed a following by fighting San Shou and kickboxing bouts for Strikeforce before trying mixed martial arts in 2006.
Joshua Gross covers mixed martial arts for ESPN.com. Franklin McNeil, who also covers MMA, contributed to this report.
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