In a fantastic third round to an exceptionally exciting, give-and-take slugfest Saturday on Showtime, Cung Le delivers the kick that may have broken Frank Shamrock’s arm. Le captured the Strikeforce middleweight title when defending champion Shamrock could not continue after the third round.
SAN JOSE – In a bruising battle of Bay Area rivals, undefeated Cung Le broke the right arm of defending champion Frank Shamrock en route to capturing the Strikeforce middleweight title with a thrilling, give-and-take, crowd-pleasing third-round TKO Saturday on Showtime.
The long-awaited, eagerly anticipated mixed martial arts event, presented by EliteXC and Strikeforce, attracted an enthusiastic, well-behaved crowd of 16,326 at the HP Pavilion that produced a gate of more than $1 million. Those in attendance included EliteXC standouts Kimbo Slice, Jake Shields, Nick Diaz and Phil Baroni.
The fight card aired on Showtime at 9 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the west coast).
Gilbert Melendez (14-1) of San Francisco successfully defended his Strikeforce lightweight belt with a second-round knockout over hard-trying but outclassed Gabe Lemley (11-7) of New London, Iowa, in a second world title match on a five-bout telecast.
In other televised scraps, Drew Fickett (32-5) of Tucson, Ariz., earned a shot at the vacant EliteXC welterweight crown against Jake Shields by submitting Korea’s Jae Suk Lim (9-4) in the first round; super heavyweight Wayne Cole (11-6) of Oklahoma City, Okla., submitted (armbar) Mike Kyle (9-6-1) of San Jose in the first round and EliteXC standout Joey Villasenor (25-6) of Albuquerque, N.M., knocked out Ryan Jensen (11-4) of Omaha, Neb., in the first round.
In the top non-televised fight, Tiki Ghosn (10-7) of Huntington Beach, Calif., registered an upset three-round decision over previously undefeated welter Luke Stewart (5-1) of San Francisco by the scores of 30-27 and 29-28 twice.
In other non-televised action, Jesse Jones (2-0) of Redwood City, Calif., scored a 0:35, first-round TKO (strikes) over Jesse Gillespie (1-1) of San Jose; Darren Uyenoyama (4-1) of San Francisco submitted Anthony Figueroa (4-2) of Gilroy, Calif., at 1:27 of the first round; and Billy Evangelista (6-0) of Fresno knocked out Marlon Sims (3-2) of San Jose at 3:39 of the third round.
The Le-Shamrock, Melendez-Lemley fights were scheduled for five, 5-minute rounds. The others were slated for three, 5-minute rounds.
“This was a great night for MMA and everybody involved with MMA,’’ EliteXC Live Events President Gary Shaw said. “Cung Le beat The Man. The respect he and Frank showed for each other was most impressive. Both athletes showed they not only are tremendous athletes but exceptional sportsmen.
“Drew Fickett was very impressive and I can’t wait to see his fight against Jake Shields June 14 on Showtime. Wayne Cole won’t be training out of his garage in Oklahoma anymore. Joey Villasenor always puts on a great show. Gilbert Melendez did what he had to do.
“There are a lot of great fighters in a lot of MMA organizations, and we saw a lot of them tonight. These are the kinds of shows I am very proud to be a part of.
Le (6-0) was ahead by the scores of 30-27 and 29-28 twice after three completed rounds.
“This was my toughest fight,’’ said Le, who was born in Vietnam, but fled the war-torn country as a baby in his mother’s arms in 1975 and immigrated to the United States where his family settled in San Jose. “I am proud to be Strikeforce champion. Tonight was a great night for MMA in general.’’
Both fighters were bleeding by the end of the first round, with blood coming from the lip of Le and a cut under Shamrock’s left eye. A taunting Shamrock ended the stanza by putting his hands to the side of his head as if to say “it is time for you to go to sleep.’’
Le wasn’t distracted by Shamrock’s antics, however, and knocked out his mouthpiece after an exchange of punches at the beginning of the second round. Later in the session, Shamrock made one of his few attempts to take Le to the ground, but Le always managed to escape.
Early in the third, after landing two powerful kicks to Shamrock’s head, Le connected with a sweeping leg kick that sent Shamrock to the canvas. Shamrock recovered and landed a huge right hand that hurt and dazed Le and followed with an onslaught of punches.
But Le retaliated with a barrage of kicks and licks of his own. Both fighters were bloodied and bruised after the three rounds.
“Frank is a legend, but I had a better night tonight,’’ Le said. ‘This was not easy. Frank surprised me by keeping his word to fight standing up and he kept coming at me. He hit me with some good punches and rocked me a few times. I saw some stars, but this was my chance to become a world champion and I pushed through it.
“I kept aiming for his wrist with my kicks because I knew I could hurt him there. I knew he was hurt when he started blocking my kicks with just one hand. But he has so much heart, I expected him to fight with a broken arm.
“I want to thank my fans for supporting and for accepting me. I did my best and brought my heart to the cage tonight. This is an unbelievable feeling.
“I have come a long way from Vietnam to become a world champion.’’
Before he was taken to a nearby hospital for surgery for what the California State Athletic Commission described as a fracture of the distal ulna (wrist fracture), Shamrock (24-9-1) said, “Cung Le broke my right arm with a kick.
“I kept trying to fight through it, but it was tough. He fought really hard tonight. He is a true champion.’’
Fickett, who has recorded submission victories in 21 of his 32 wins, required all of 1:14 to take Lim to the ground and tap him out.
“I came out here to fight and I stepped up,” Fickett said. “I wanted to fight (the injured) Jake (Shields), but I will get my chance to do that. I was just trying to choke Lim out on the ground, but he lifted me up and I was able to get a better hold around his neck.
“Once he fell back to the ground it was over. He had to tap out.”
Melendez dominated Lemley before the referee halted the one-sided proceedings at 2:18 of the second.
“I thought I had him at the end of the first round, but he was saved by the bell,’’ Melendez said. “Another five seconds and it would have been over.
“He was definitely a tough guy but these are the kinds of wins you need to get to prove to people you are among the very best in your weight class. I would love to unify the titles.
“I’d be glad to fight the winner of the KJ Noons-Yves Edwards fight (Noons defends his EliteXC lightweight belt against Edwards June 14 in Honolulu on SHOWTIME).’’
In the quickest fight of an action-packed night, Cole submitted Kyle (armbar) at 0:42 of the first.
“This was by far the biggest victory of my career, but no way I expected it to end that quickly. To win this kind of fight that quickly on SHOWTIME is a tremendous boost to me and my career.
“I was told that my weakness was I didn’t use my wrestling skills, so I wanted to take him down and show everyone what I have. I love to fight, but I try to get out of there as quickly as I can.’’
If the swift victory came as a surprise to Cole, it is going to be a total shock to his mother.
“My mom doesn’t even know I am doing MMA and I have been doing it three years,’’ said Cole moments before calling her. “She thought I was boxing. My seven sisters all knew what I was up to, but they didn’t tell her either.
“I am sure my mom will be proud of me, but she won’t be too happy with any of us that no one told her what was going on.’’
In perhaps the best knockout of the evening, Villasenor stopped Jensen with a series of powerful combinations followed by a punishing right hook.
“I was trying to find my range with him and the jabs were just trying to set something up,’’ said Villasenor after a short but rousing slugfest that featured numerous exchanges ended. “He caught me with some shots, but then I really connected with that right hook.
“I worked hard for this fight. He is a great competitor, but I really came out swinging. I want to thank EliteXC for giving me this opportunity and everyone back home who helps me train.
“I am willing to fight whoever they put in front of me.’’
Renowned play-by-play announcer Mauro Ranallo called the shots on Saturday’s telecast with former wrestling superstar, Bill Goldberg, and “The Fight Professor,” Stephen Quadros, serving as color analysts. The executive producer was David Dinkins, Jr. with Bob Dunphy directing.