Don’t dare blink when St. Rose native Thanh Le enters the cage for a fight – the mixed martial artist has a knack for ending things quickly.
Actually, the better description would be “multi-time world champion” Thanh Le, who captured the ONE Fighting Championship interim featherweight title last month in dominant fashion, beating Ilya Freymanov by submission in just over a minute at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand.
“That (stadium) has such a rich history with so many amazing fighters who have fought there,” said Le. “The cool and different thing there is it’s only a combat sports arena – it was made for this. (Winning there) is definitely one thing I can cross off my bucket list.”
His resume in the cage suggest Le is made for this, too.
The early finish is commonplace for Le, who is 14-3 as a professional fighter. All of those 14 wins have seen Le finish his opponent, with 10 of those ending in round one.
There was one relatively uncommon wrinkle in his win over Freymanov – it was the first submission win Le secured since a 2014 win over Matt Vaughn, the second pro win of Le’s career. All of his other finishes came via KO/TKO.
“A lot of people haven’t seen my grappling, but it’s been getting better and better over the years,” Le said. “I work with some really good guys. My team here at my gym in Metairie, LeBros MMA, Shawn Gayton and the guys at Mid City MMA … I had Ryan Hall in my corner for this fight, and he’s been a huge help for me.”
Fittingly, Le finished Freymanov with a heel hook – which is the calling card of Hall, who is nicknamed “The Wizard” and defeated MMA legend B.J. Penn with the hold.
“It was nice to show it off to him, kind of some kudos to him for his help over the years,” Le said.
This was the third time Le has won championship gold. In January of 2018, he won the LFA Interim Heavyweight Championship by TKO over Bobby Mofett. In October of 2020, he defeated Martin Nguyen by TKO to earn the ONE Featherweight World Championship.
Prior to the Freymanov matchup, Le was scheduled for a July rematch with Tang Kai, who earned the Featherweight Championship from Le last year by decision. A knee injury sidelined Kai, however, and along with it that matchup. The interim championship win puts Le on course to collide with Kai again once the latter returns, for a title unification bout.
Le’s unique fighting style has left few prepared to last with him in the cage. His punches land hard, but there’s a science behind it all.
“My brother (Vinh Le) and I worked together to create a really unique style that emphasizes my best traits and the things I do well,” Le explained. “Things like moving our opponents throughout the ring, creating gains that the opponent isn’t quite able to keep up with … basically, moving you into our strikes. If I can get you moving toward what I’m throwing at you, that really amplifies the power I have.”
That knockout blow comes when the opponent least expects it.
His resume tends to make one think about offense. But often, the best offense is a good defense. Le’s fights often end with that one knockout blow, but he’s not charging in to trade blows.
“You can hit hard, and I can hit hard … whether a guy is known for knockouts or not, this is a grown man who trains to fight for a living. He can definitely knock me out,” Le said. “I’m glad I get a lot of finishes and it entertains people, but at the same time, I’m here to make a living for my family, first and foremost.”
Le calls his approach an assassin-like mentality.
“I’m posted up in a window. You have no idea where I’m at,” Le said. “I pop out that window for a split second, I hit my target and go home.”
Each fight is a completely different animal, Le said. While in some cases, these fights last mere seconds, the preparation leading up to that is in large part where Le earns his victory money. He prides himself on knowing his opponent and, along with his team, crafting the right game plan to defeat each specific foe.
“Your camp is 75 percent about strategy,” he said. “The rest is making sure you’re in shape, that you’re making weight. But strategy is what separates you from the pack. In this sport, everyone hits hard. Everyone’s strong, everyone’s fast.
“I’m definitely a huge part of my own coaching. I think about the game, think about myself and what I’m great or not great at. I find a lot of fighters don’t do that well. I find the best fighters do that really well.”
Le’s tactics are always evolving. Sometimes he’s found inspiration via some of the biggest names in the sport – MMA greats like Isreal Adesanya, Georges St. Pierre, Alexander Volkanovski and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. He’ll borrow from them, but most often, it’s that one-on-one work with his training partners and coaches like brother Vinh, Gayton, Hall and UFC contender Cory Sandhagen, who Le was preparing to work with this week.
His next fight has not been set just yet, so the champ is back home to enjoy the holidays for the time being – just not too much.
“You don’t want to get too heavy between fights,” Le said. “You don’t know when that call might come. But hopefully we’ll have that date and venue by the beginning of the year – I definitely want to get back in there ASAP.”