In the mixed martial arts game, anything can happen. That is not a cliché, but rather a state of affairs in today’s MMA world. Fans have seen expert-level black belts in BJJ getting tapped out by lesser pedigreed fighters. They have also seen expert-level strikers getting knocked out. All of this makes the next battle for the ONE Championship featherweight title that much more interesting.
On Friday, Mar. 11, at ONE Championship: Lights Out, fans are in a real treat as the event showcases multiple title fights. However, the headlining affair between ONE featherweight champion Thanh Le and jiu-jitsu ace Garry Tonon is the proverbial icing on the cake.
Le is entering the ONE Circle for the first time since Oct. 2020, when he captured the title from Martin Nguyen with a second round knockout. The 36-year-old former contestant of The Ultimate Fighter Season 22 is no slouch in the grappling game, as he trains out with submission guru Ryan Hall out of 50/50 BJJ in Virginia. However, 11 of his 12 career victories have come by way of knockout, making him a very dangerous striker.
THe Louisiana native started training taekwondo when he was four or five years old. He competed in the striking art for many years and eventually was invited to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He ended up turning down the offer to complete his senior year of high school, and when he was done with his taekwondo competition days, he shifted his focus to MMA. His first title challenger comes with a much different background.
Tonon started wrestling in his native New Jersey in fifth grade. He discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu at age 14, and he eventually started training under Tom DeBlass, who was in the process of amassing his own stack of gold as a BJJ competitor. At 22 years of age, Tonon was awarded his black belt, and he had already won multiple IBJJF World and Pan No-Gi gold medals. Since then, Tonon’s grappling record has been off the charts
2012 was a pivotal year for both athletes, as that was the year Le made his amateur MMA debut, and Tonon really started competing at the highest levels of grappling events. After a 3-0 amateur MMA career, all by knockout, Le turned pro, and has since amassed a 12-2 pro record. His most significant accomplishment being the ONE featherweight title. Tonon, on the other hand, earned a bronze medal at the highly acclaimed ADCC World Championship in 2019, in addition to stacking dozens of gold medals, in addition to cashing checks from several pro grappling wins.
Tonon signed directly with ONE and made his pro MMA debut in 2018, scoring a TKO over Richard Corminal in the second round at ONE Championship: Iron Will. Since then, he has gone 6-0 with three submissions, two TKO victories and a unanimous decision over Koyomi Matsushima in his last outing in Dec. 2020. He has proven to be a well-rounded competitor, which is not surprising when considering that his coach for every modality of his fight game is John Danaher.
Danaher, who created the dominant Danaher Death Squad out of the infamous blue basement of the Renzo Gracie academy in New York City, is a 6th degree black belt in BJJ. He actually had a background in kickboxing and karate before embarking on his career as one of the most unique and prolific coaches in the history of jiu-jitsu.
The two top-ranked ONE featherweights have been on a collision course for years, and they didn’t even know it. Le was one fight away from a nearly guaranteed UFC contract when he dropped an LFA featherweight title unification bout to Kevin Aguilar. ONE capitalized on that turn of events, signing him for his promotional debut, which he made in May 2019. At the time, Tonon was already 4-0 under the ONE banner. They both worked their ways through their respective opponents, and both are undefeated in ONE. This set them up for their title clash on Mar. 11.
The ONE Championship: Lights Out headliner will showcase what could easily be billed as a classic striker vs. grappler affair. However, Le has been building his grappling background with Hall, who has one of the most dominant ground games in MMA, and Tonon has been expanding on his striking game with Danaher, who is one of the most well-rounded coaches around. This is a clash of styles that is not to be missed, and it could end in any way possible.
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