There was a very pro-Cung Le crowd at Heroes Sports Lounge in Modesto, CA - where this writer happened to catch UFC 139: Shogun vs. Henderson on Saturday. Le has been based in San Jose, CA for essentially his entire career, and all of the other California fighters were cheered on at the bar as well. Aside from Urijah Faber, it was Le who got the loudest cheers.
That is to say, until Wanderlei Silva started teeing off on him, and the bar exploded in rabid cheers for "The Axe Murderer." It was an odd sight to behold, especially as someone without rooting interest in either fighter. There were audible boos for Wanderlei and cheers for Le, yet once he started teeing off on Le, it was very clear that the crowd was in Wanderlei's corner. Was it because of the fact that they just had the bloodlust going and wanted to see someone get knocked out, or was there something more?
In all actuality, there was probably a lot more to it. More than almost any fighter, Wanderlei has been loved by the fans for his fights as well as his personality. He's so humble and fun-loving, and wants nothing more than to entertain the fans. Watching him in interviews, he'd honestly be adorable if he didn't possess the quality to rip you limb from limb and mercilessly beat you with them. But yes, other than the potential destruction of one's entire being, he is, in fact, adorable.
Wanderlei's "Axe Muderer" ways have been absent of late. The spurts of intense, high gear action have become few and far between, and it's likely that everyone in the bar simple wanted him to get a win, at any cost. It could have been those patron's own mother in the octagon being kneed repeatedly in the face, and they'd likely have cheered him on. Knee, Wandy, knee.
Le is still a wildly popular fighter, as evidenced by the fact that he earned more (before fight bonuses, sponsorships and a potential cut of the PPV) than any other fighter on the card, with $350K. That's really impressive - but he'll have to win these kinds of fights in the future to keep making it. San Jose will always be behind Le, save in a PRIDE-induced frenzy while watching Silva knee him into nothingness, and the UFC can always fall back on him if they need a big name for another event in California, but he'll need to win his next fight.
Apparently, Le was brought back and given a multi-fight deal, though typically, the UFC can cut any fighter coming off a loss (or for a myriad of other reasons). 350K is just too much money at this point, and those fans in the bar will quickly forget about him if he keeps losing and keeps dropping fights to PRIDE fighters far past their prime. The UFC may have a decision to make sooner rather than later.