Thanh Le’s first ONE Featherweight World Title defense is just days away, and it couldn’t come against a more different opponent.
The Vietnamese-American knockout artist will take on grappling wizard Garry Tonon in the main event of ONE: LIGHTS OUT this Friday, 11 March, with their extreme contrast in styles sure to create a riveting contest.
Will Le’s incredible striking prevail, or will multiple-time BJJ World Champion Tonon reach the pinnacle in mixed martial arts?
Here, we break down the biggest keys to victory for both men at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
#1 Thanh Le’s Mastery On The Outside
This will certainly be a battle of range control, and Le’s best chance to keep things out in the open will come from his long punches and kicks.
A lifetime in taekwondo means the reigning featherweight king is used to bouncing in and out with his footwork. This will give him space to operate, and his accurate straight punches can then keep the challenger away.
The 50/50 and MidCity MMA man is patient on the outside, happy to use his laser-like jabs and crosses to find the mark. He switches well between punching and feinting to open up gaps and force his rivals to second-guess their entries.
In terms of volume, Le’s hands will be his biggest weapon against a man seeking to grab hold of him, but his side kicks to the body and legs are also useful to jam into oncoming attacks and fend off an offensive swarm.
#2 Garry Tonon Must Close The Distance
Tonon has shown a lot of improvements in his stand-up arsenal, though he’s smart enough to realize that going toe-to-toe against a striker like Le is not wise. With that in mind, his main game plan will be to close his man down.
“The Lion Killer” has good enough defense to survive on the feet for a while, and he might be able to catch the World Champion overextending on strikes, particularly if he uses his head movement to avoid a punch.
If that happens, Tonon can shoot underneath for a takedown while his opponent is following through on the shot.
There could be a chance to latch onto one of Le’s kicks too, but the challenger will have to remain aware of the taekwondo stylist’s penchant for following kicks with stepping punches if he does commit his hands to a leg.
Yusup Saadulaev took Le to the canvas with a charging single-leg takedown, and that will give Tonon confidence that his penetrating shots can do the same job.
#3 Thanh Le’s Concussive Counterstriking
As we see in most striker-versus-grappler showdowns, the onus will be on Tonon to close the distance, even though he knows there’s danger in doing so – especially since Le is such a proficient counterstriker off the back foot.
If “The Lion Killer” gets frustrated at not being able to make inroads, he’s more likely to race in with increasing recklessness, and that’s when the 36-year-old titleholder would thrive.
Le punches well with straights and hooks moving backward, and he can generate stopping power from either stance if he’s retreating from an attack. Martin Nguyen found this out when Le hurt him with a right hand while stepping back, leading to the KO that captured the featherweight belt.
The Vietnamese-American also has impeccable timing, catching Saadulaev flush on the jaw when the Russian tried to shoot on his legs. Tonon will have to be wary of every limb when he presses forward.
#4 Garry Tonon’s Submission Threat From Anywhere
One difference between Tonon and other grapplers is that he doesn’t need to secure a clean takedown to be dangerous. Any connection he makes can lead to a fight-ending sequence.
If he grabs hold of Le in any manner, the Team Renzo Gracie and Evolve representative will be happy to pull guard just to get things to the ground – confident he can advance his position or attack from underneath.
He is also lightning-fast in the scrambles when rivals try to escape, and more often than not, he comes out ahead, often attacking from turtle position or looking for back control.
Once he’s on the ground with an opponent, the American is relentless in attacking, and his elite submission grappling puts him levels above almost anybody on the canvas – although Le’s saving grace could be his training sessions alongside another submission icon in Ryan Hall at 50/50.
Tonon best showcased his ability to go from connection to finish when he faced Yoshiki Nakahara. The New Jersey native baited his Japanese foe with a single-leg before dropping back to secure the submission from a leg entanglement.