Thanh Le: ONE Championship Featherweight Champ Has Taekwondo Roots!

Than Le
ONE Championship
A powerful and precise striker with a background in taekwondo, Thanh Le has developed into one of the most well-rounded mixed martial artists in the game. He grew up training at his father’s taekwondo school, where he learned not only the way of striking but also the path of a martial artist.

“It shaped me as a man, as a human,” Thanh Le said. “I can’t veer from that path even if I tried. It’s made me choose my circle wisely and who I accept and keep in that circle. A lot of people live and die by who they choose to put around them. And I happened to get really lucky because most of those I’ve chosen are family.”

Thanh Le eventually found his way to MMA, making his professional debut in 2013 and amassing a 4-1 record. This led him to The Ultimate Fighter reality-TV series. Although he didn’t win the season, he was able to impress with his skill set, and that earned him a spot on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2017. Despite finishing that match with a head-kick KO, Thanh Le did not sign with the promotion. He fought twice in 2018 under the LFA banner before finding his home at ONE Championship in 2019.

His run on The Ultimate Fighter was not for naught, as it was on the series that he met jiu-jitsu ace Ryan Hall. “Him and I were contestants aiming for a goal that he hit beautifully,” Thanh Le said. “We gravitated toward each other because of the way we operate, the way we think and the way we train.

“He ended up calling me after the show, and we threw around some ideas about training together. I was like, ‘Yeah, man, I have no ego.’ I’ll accept help from anyone who wants to give it to me, especially from a dude like that. That relationship has been life-changing. He’s helped me so much. I’ve tried to help him as much as possible where I can.”

Thanh Le’s most recent fight was a title defense against leg-lock specialist Garry Tonon. Tonon came into the bout with a 6-0 record (three submission victories and two knockouts). The John Danaher pupil is one of the best grapplers in MMA. It was Thanh Le’s preparation with another leg-lock specialist — Ryan Hall — that got him ready for Tonon’s grappling prowess.

“In the pure technique side of it, we knew that he’s really good at these outside foot locks,” Thanh Le said. “We worked a lot of specifics. We knew his game coming in.”

About 30 seconds into their match, Garry Tonon pulled guard and immediately started attacking Thanh Le’s legs. Le countered by peeling the legs off his hips and dropping big punches. Although Tonon appeared to lock on a threatening outside heel hook, Le was able to control Tonon’s outside leg, after which he started to put weight on the foot Tonon was attacking. From there, Le postured up and landed punches that ultimately put Tonon out.

“If you give me a clean opening, the issue for the other guy is I have really heavy hands and kicks,” Thanh Le said. “For my division, I’ve got [Francis] Ngannou power. If you let me touch you one time, you might go to sleep. I think my power comes from my taekwondo background. It sounds weird because it’s just kicking, but power generation is power generation.”

Although Thanh Le’s next fight has not been booked, he’s open to the idea of taking on a champion from another organization. “We need to do this cross-promotion stuff,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out who the best in the world is. We have belts for a reason, and now we’ve got to get those belts to fight each other for that Super Bowl, for that grand championship — whatever you want to call it. That’s for the sport. That’s for the fans. We need to see who the best in the world is.”

The options for cross-promotional fights are endless, but one organization that has put on these matches in the past is Bellator MMA. With featherweights on the roster like A.J. McKee and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, it could be a great place to start.

With all of Thanh Le’s experience in both traditional martial arts and MMA, he had some great advice to share with younger fighters:

“Skill building is huge. Be the most skilled person you can possibly turn yourself into. Everybody at the top is tough. You’re not special in that regard. You need your skills to separate you. Everybody has heart. Everybody is willing to die in there. That’s not special.

“Build your jiu-jitsu skills, your wrestling skills, your striking skills. Separate yourself with that. Don’t use the toughness and the chin early. Save that for when you’ve had the belt for eight years and then you might be getting just a hair slower and you’re not in the gym quite as much.”

Be sure to follow Thanh Le and ONE Championship for the latest news regarding his next fight.

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