This weekend, Thanh Le looks to defend his belt against the grappling savant that is Garry Tonon. Le, who captured the belt in his last fight against Martin Nguyen, is set to attempt his first defense at ONE Championship: Lights Out. Ahead of the fight, Le took some time to talk with us about his start in martial arts, the fight with Tonon, and plenty more.
Le’s explosive background comes from a taekwondo base. He remembers being brought up in a family of martial artists. In a region of the United States where weekend baseball trips are a norm among families, Thanh Le was involved with weekend taekwondo tournaments instead. He also remembers discovering MMA at a local show and his first foray into the sport.
“So, I have been taekwondo as a kid since I can remember, so like three or four years old. I grew up and my dad owned a taekwondo school. I’ve been doing that forever. My whole childhood has been pretty much traveling and doing tournaments, doing local tournaments here in South Louisiana.” Continuing, Thanh Le says, “Then as an adult, we kind of went on with our lives and still trained and competed here and there. Then a buddy of mine in my family went and kind of checked out an MMA show. Obviously, we knew about MMA and the UFC. We went to watch it and we kind of said, ‘We should try this. It’s kind of cool. It seems like it would be the next step of some type of martial arts evolution. Let’s try this other stuff.’ So we’re idiots. We took a fight with zero hands, zero wrestling, zero Jiu Jitsu. We’re lucky and both of us got first round KO’s but that’s not how it should have played out. We should have got punished,” said Le laughing.
Putting all that time in for martial arts was a long process for Thanh Le. He spent years in his childhood fighting as a taekwondoin (one who practices taekwondo). Then, he made the transition to mixed martial arts and worked to become the best version of an MMA fighter. The end goal was the title. When Thanh Le captured the ONE Championship belt, it was a dream come true after years of waiting.
“It was a little crazy. All these emotions hit you at one time. You see me immediately after knocking Martin out, the ref calls it and I kind of take a few steps and I just lay down. Obviously I just fought a guy so I’m tired too. It all hits you and know I’m going to have to hold this belt, I’m going to have to do an interview. Let’s try to hold the tears for, like, ten minutes. I piece myself together, do the interview, get the belt, celebrate, then I walk to the back and obviously we lose it at that point.”
Thanh Le vs. Garry Tonon at ONE Championship: Lights Out
Going into ONE Championship: Lights Out, Thanh Le knows what he’s getting into with the style of fighter that Tonon is. Le points out that he’s sort of the same thing; the two are similar in the fact that they are specalists. Le is a Yin whereas Tonon is a Yang. He sees himself as a striking specialist and Tonon is the opposite. This plays into his favor, Le believes, knowing himself how specialist prepare for a fight.
“I understand what it is like to be a specialist. So, I understand how that game is put together. I understand that the other area that’s not your expertise is kind of used to facilitate access to the other. If it’s me, I want to use my grappling to get back to the feet so I can knock this man out. If it’s a grappler, he’s going to use his striking so we can connect where we end up on the ground and where his advantage and strongest chance of winning is going to be there. I’ve worked with a long, long time training partner, good friend, and coach, mentor in Ryan Hall. Obviously not just for this fight, we train no matter what, on and off all year round since The Ultimate Fighter. There hasn’t been 3-4 weeks that’s passed that I’ve been at his place or he’s been at mine. It worked out nice that Ryan has been a great template in learning for a Jiu Jitsu specialist. We’re just continuing on our trek.”
Tuning in will be of the upmost importance. This fight is prime for fireworks and Thanh Le believes that it will be just that he delivers. Le points to the resume of each of the men to evidence of just that. When asked why should fans tune in, Le says if it’s a finish you want, it will be a finish you’ll get.
“Even the numbers on paper are going to kind of do it for me. Garry has had six fights. His last fight was the only one he didn’t get a finish in. I’ve got four fights with ONE, twelve fights total, I’ve never gone to a decision win or lose. So y’all are going to see a finish. If y’all want to see a finish, watch this fight. I am putting him unconscious or he’s going to tap me out; one or the other. We’re going to get a finish, this is not going to go to the end of the fifth round. It’ll go to the fifth round, but one of us is getting the finish. Obviously, I plan on knocking him out!”
Thanh Le and Garry Tonon finally lock horns this Friday at ONE Championship: Lights Out this weekend. With the title on the line, it’s not a fight you’ll want to miss.
In addition to covering the ONE Championship for My MMA News, Blaine Henry, the author, also analyzes fights from all combat sports across the globe.