Thanh Le Ready For All Challengers In 2021
There’s no question 2020 proved to be a great year for Thanh Le. He began the year with a first-round knockout over Ryogo Takahashi at ONE: A New Tomorrow. Nine months later, he knocked out Martin Nguyen at ONE: Inside the Matrix to become the ONE featherweight champion.
Now sitting atop the featherweight division, Le knows knows that he now has a target on his back.
“I Can’t Complain About 2020”
While 2020 was a trying year for most, the Vietnamese- American believes it came with blessings. Speaking to ONE Championship, the Louisiana native said he was fortunate to have competed. To make it even better, he finished the year as a world champion, and is soon to become a father.
“To be honest with you, I can’t complain about 2020,” said Le. “I’ve just been really lucky and blessed to be able to do what I love for my job and continue to take care of my family.
“My wife, she’s in the healthcare industry. She’s a nurse. She stayed busy and was constantly working, and it could have been a lot worse for both of us in all situations. We’re expecting [a baby girl] in March. We’re one of the lucky few. It’s worked out really well.
“Obviously, in 2020, I’m really happy because of the World Title match and to win the belt. Although I only got to fight twice, I do count that as a blessing because we still got people who haven’t fought at all this year. It’s been nice to be active, climb up the ranks, go for that title shot, and take home the belt. It was cool, to say the least.”
Talking Less About The Title
Ahead of his fight with Takahashi, Le knew he wasn’t too far off from a title shot, and all but secured his opportunity to fight for the belt with a dominant, first-round knockout victory.
“Going into that fight [against Ryogo Takahashi at ONE: A New Tomorrow], I kind of figured it was something that could lead me really close to the title,” said Le. “I knew I had to be within one or two fights.”
However, he mentioned the title less as he neared the fight in order to avoid any distractions. The 35-year-old believes this is the best way he for him to be the best version of himself every fight night.
“The closer I get to the fight, the less and less I talk about the title,” Le said. “The less and less I talk about what this could mean for my family and that kind of stuff because the best way I can perform in the cage is to treat it like a regular Tuesday and go spar. That’s the best Thanh Le that’s ever come out, and I’m trying to get “Fight Thanh Le” as close to that guy as humanly possible.
“I was very much the way I wanted to be in the fight: relaxed, sharp, and aware of the dangers that he was bringing to the table. It was almost like I was able to see into the future. I could see what’s available. I could see what he was thinking about throwing.
“That fight worked out really well. I was happy to get the knockout, but the longer that fight would have went, the more separation you would have seen between Ryogo and me as far as skill sets.”
“Gold On My Mind”
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Le had already been booked to fight Nguyen. The pandemic only delayed their showdown but the Mid City MMA representative believes it gave both him and his opponent more time to prepare.
“That was the entire quarantine – with gold on my mind and training for Martin,” said Le. “He pretty much had two-to-three camps for me by the time we fought. I had maybe the equivalent of two-to-three camps for him leading up to that fight, so it’s nice to have a lot of preparation for one of the biggest fights in my life. I’m glad he got ample time to prepare and know who he was fighting so I could get the best Martin possible.
“I don’t want to go and fight for the title if Martin has a stubbed toe. Let him rest and recover. I want the 100 percent, 110 percent Martin Nguyen. It was cool to get all this time, and I knew he had all this time to prepare.”
An Opportunity To Win The Title
Ultimately, Le was glad his fight with ‘The Situ-Asian’ finally materialised. After nine months of inactivity, he was finally back in the ONE Circle.
“I was very thankful and happy we were allowed to travel and set this fight up,” Le said. “I am very thankful for the Singapore government to take all the precautions they needed to keep all of their citizens and their team safe, but still being able to allow us to get in there and get fighters from other countries set up in the hotel, quarantined, allowing us to train, and ultimately fighting and flying home safely.
“It was very, very strict. But it was the right thing to do because otherwise, the other option is not having fights in Singapore, which meant I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to win this belt.”
“I’m Grateful For Every Fan I Pick Up Along The Way”
Going into the fight, Le was the underdog but he shocked the world and was able to bring the ONE featherweight title back to the United States.
“It’s huge,” said Le. “I try not to think about it before the fight, but it’s nice to settle down afterward. If I can bring some pleasure and excitement into somebody’s life because they’re watching these fights, I’m grateful for every fan I pick up along the way.
“Martin does train over here for his camps, but he’s representing Australia and Vietnam. I represent the U.S. and Vietnam. It was kind of cool to have this Vietnamese-Vietnamese battle, but he’s representing another country, and I’m representing another country. Even though we were the same, we were different also. That was a really cool piece to it – a twist you can’t get with every matchup. It’s nice to be able to bring that belt back to my family, the city of New Orleans in Louisiana, and give them a good show.
Wishing For A Cleaner Finish
The Vietnamese-American vs Vietnamese-Australian title clash will perhaps go down as one of the most entertaining fights in ONE history. Reflecting on the fight, he wishes it could’ve ended in prettier fashion.
“We watched the fight a couple of times now,” Le said. “I haven’t really done any counts or anything like that, but in the first round, he landed like two leg kicks and maybe a punch. In the second round, I’m not sure he made contact with really anything. Through the first two rounds, we were feeling really good. It was a very dominant performance, no matter how you look at it, to be honest with you.
“Then in the third, he came out swinging. You can’t be that right-hand heavy without sticking your neck out there a little bit. It took me a second to get an eyeful of where his openings were during his punches. I tried to stay safe in those times. My face didn’t have a ton of damage, or really any damage after his aggression and lead in the third. So, none of those punches landed super clean or dead-on because if they did, I would still be sleeping probably.
“The ending flurry wasn’t something I was super proud of because it was way messier than I wanted it to be, way sloppier than I wanted it to be. We ended up looking like deer on ice for a second there with both of us on the mat, but I connected with a good left hand to the temple, and a good right uppercut to the side of the face, jaw area, and that was that.”
“A Lot Of Movement In The Division”
Now the ONE featherweight champion, a lot of hungry contenders will be lining up in front of Le, and he is ready to welcome all challengers in 2021. Some names that stand out include Garry Tonon, and a rematch with Nguyen. But he also has his eye on the lightweight division, where Christian Lee is the reigning champion.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of movement in the division,” said Le. “We’re at a tipping point right now, I think. We’ve got a lot of up-and-coming talent. Everybody’s hunting for the title. That’s the most fun time to be a part of something – when things are changing, and you’ve got new, dangerous, hungry talent.
“You’ve got the guys who’ve been there for a minute; how are they going to perform based on these new guys? Are they going to hold their spot or give that up? And you’ve got me being at the top. I’m trying to stay there. I’ve got my eyes on these guys and potential matchups. It’s going to be really cool to see how that shakes out.
“I’ve also got eyes on the lightweight division and Christian [Lee] and his awesome performance on our card when we both fought. Maybe Christian and I can battle it out at lightweight, while Martin and Garry [Tonon] fight for who’s going to fight for [my featherweight] title.”
Who should Thanh Le make his first ONE featherweight title defence against?