Thanh Le landed in ONE Championship in 2019 and quickly became the man to beat. Following three scorching knockout wins, the Louisiana native grabbed the ONE featherweight world championship from Martin Nguyen. Now he faces a different challenge for his first title defense – BJJ superstar Garry Tonon.
The striker vs. grappler matchup will headline ONE Championship: Lights Out on Friday, Mar. 11, and Le is preparing for Tonon’s unique ground game ahead of the intriguing contest.
“That’s a real difficult thing to gameplan for, right?” said Le. “He’s got so many tools in the toolbox. I think the main thing is to focus on my toolbox and my defenses and my shields and things that I have in place to negate some of that, to counteract some of that, and to not even allow it.
“Everybody keeps bringing it up, and I’ve fallen into a lucky situation where I happen to be training with one of, in my opinion, the best grapplers in MMA. So, at least I get some of those looks and some of that during training, and I’m trying to prepare myself the best I can to face a guy like that.”
Le is getting those looks from Ryan Hall at Fifty/50 Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Virginia. The MidCity MMA representative has been working with Hall for many years, and his trainer’s guidance has never been more important than ahead of his battle with Tonon.
The reigning featherweight king is excited by the classic opposing style his upcoming rival offers, but he notes how both men have been training as complete martial artists for many years.
“He’s spent years and years being the best in the world at something, and I’ve done the same,” stated Le. “And we’re trying to be complete, well-rounded, mixed martial artists, but the truth of the matter is that we’re specialists. That’s just how the specialist game works, right. A lot of people like to call themselves specialists, but you have to be at a certain level in one. Now, just because you spent all your time striking doesn’t mean you’re a striking specialist. Being at a certain level and being elite in a certain level and world-class at a certain skill set makes you a specialist in that piece.
“And we’re not slouches on the other side of the coin, either. So I think it’s going to be a really interesting matchup for the fans because it is traditional grappler versus striker, but he’s got some striking, and I’ve got some grappling. So if it touches the ground for two seconds, I’m not getting subbed. If he stays standing and keeps his hands up for two seconds, he’s not getting knocked out.”
Although Le is complimentary of Tonon’s skills, he isn’t as forthcoming with praise about his position as the next challenger for the gold. Even though Tonon is 6-0 in ONE and 4-0 at featherweight, Le questions his road to the main event.
“Honestly, I said this before the fight, and I’m kind of past even really talking about it too much, but Garry didn’t have a tough road belt,” said the Louisiana resident. “The guys that he fought had some not-so-great records, but he did beat Matsushima who lost to Martin for the title. So he did at least get that tough matchup before he was given the title shot. But things play out the way they play out. I don’t really pay any mind. Eventually, I was going to fight him anyway, in my opinion.”
Le has always embraced the champion’s mindset of tackling the toughest opposition available. The 36-year-old wants to compete against the best of the best. He isn’t concerned with fame or riches. He embodies the martial arts mindset of proving yourself against all comers.
“The way my mind works, and me as a martial artist operates if you hear that name, and you’re like, ‘Oh man, that’s a dangerous fight.’ That’s the one,” said Le. “That’s the one I got to do right now. And then we’ll look at the next.
“Who’s the guy that’s kind of like, ‘Oh, he’s dangerous. He’s the next one, right?’ I’ve said this in previous interviews, we’ve got guys who can use the belt for good or evil. Either you can use it to kind of shy away from big challenges, try to hang on to the belt, try to make as much money as possible, and then avoid the ones that are a little tougher. I’m not in it for that. You know what I mean? I will enjoy the money, of course, but I’m in it to face the baddest dudes on the planet. Otherwise, I have no reason to be here. I definitely don’t deserve to hold this belt if I’m not looking for the toughest challenges.”
Tonon is his next challenge, and it will test his ability to stop one of the greatest submission artists on the planet.
ONE Championship: Lights Out airs live and free on ONE’s YouTube channel and the ONE Super App on Friday, Mar. 11, at 7:30 a.m. ET.
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