Thanh Le has been waiting for a chance to prove himself on the biggest stage in all of martial arts.
The 33-year old featherweight has entertained hard-core fans in America as a sensational striker with a lot of flashy techniques in his arsenal and a 100 percent finishing rate, but he has been itching to test himself against the best mixed martial artists in the world.
He will finally get that opportunity as a member of the ONE Championship roster next Friday, 3 May
Ahead of his highly-anticipated contest at the Istora Senayan in Jakarta, Indonesia, Le explains why he was destined for a life in martial arts.
The Family Business
Le’s father migrated from Vietnam and met his mother in Kentucky. Their son was born in the small town of Owensboro, before the family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana when he was 5 – when Le Sr. got a new job working as a pipefitter at a refinery.
Beyond his work, Le’s dad was also a taekwondo practitioner. He began his training when he was just 8 years old back in his homeland. He eventually opened a school called Moon College Taekwondo, which is where he still teaches to this day.
He passed on his skills to his offspring almost as soon as he could walk, and he excelled.
“I spent my childhood in a martial arts school and traveling for tournaments,” Le says.
“We have a great family and a martial arts school, so it’s been great growing up there – keeping me out of trouble, keeping me off the streets, and doing some really fun stuff that I loved doing every day.
“It’s really cool to grow up in that supportive environment, and be able to shine and show what I’ve learned.”
A Crazy Decision
Although Le grew up practicing taekwondo with his brother, he never considered that he would use his skills to make a living and provide for his own family.
He continued to train and stay sharp throughout his youth, and everything he learned became the platform to dive into mixed martial arts after he visited a local Louisiana show one weekend when he was 26.
At the time, Le was working a full-time job, but a snap decision would take him down a brand new career path.
“It’s a crazy story,” Le says. “We went and saw some local fights and me and my buddy Carlos Vera were like, ‘This looks kind of cool, I think we should try to do it.’
“So we both ended up taking a fight two or three months down the road. We knew we had to train the other sports – boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, all that other stuff – but we took a fight without any of that extra training.
“We were just kind of being crazy and decided to do it and it turned into my life.”
You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Until It’s Gone
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You learn a lot about yourself when you get hit in a fight… Really hit. There is a reaction in your head that no one else can hear or see… You find yourself looking for a way out of the cage, or you just click… You dig as deep as possible and give everything you have, to destroy the person in front of you. Either it's in you or it's not… There's no faking it. There's no lying to yourself. You know deep down inside when you look in the mirror, if who you see in front of you belongs in the cage; if this is what you were born for. #Mma #wrestling #bjj #tkd #nodaysoff #lebros
In the seven years since Le dedicated his life to becoming an athlete, he has had to overcome turmoil both in his personal and professional life.
At home, he suffered through a painful divorce, which was made even tougher because of his 10-year-old son. However, he says he and his ex-wife still work together to support their boy.
In his career, Le has had to battle through a litany of injuries that have plagued him over the years, but none worse than one he suffered in 2014.
During an early exchange in the main event at a show in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he got caught by a punch that broke his jaw in two places. Somehow, Le gutted through the pain to score a stunning first-round knockout, but the damage he endured caused him to be out of action for more than a year.
However, if there was one positive that came from his time on the sidelines, it was that Le realized that mixed martial arts was not going to just be a hobby for him. He wanted to make it his career.
“It’s tough not being able to train, not being able to talk, having your jaw wired shut, eating through a straw, and not be able to do what you love on a daily basis – especially if you have a very busy, hectic, active lifestyle,” Le says.
“It’s tough, mentally and physically, to just sit on the couch.
“Coming back from that was a chapter in my life that I really like a lot because it showed me I really wanted to do this sport and that I really loved doing this. It’s big to go through that and realize you love this and yearn to do this every day.”
Going To The Top
When he returned to competition, Le hit four more knockouts in a row and won the LFA Featherweight Championship, which punched his ticket to ONE Championship.
Now that he is in the world’s largest martial arts organization, he has set his sights on the pinnacle of his sport – he plans on winning the ONE Featherweight World Title.
“I don’t think it’s worth it to do this sport just to linger in the bottom field. If you think you can go somewhere with this, you want to be the best,” he says.
“That’s really the purpose for martial arts – to see your true potential, to be the best martial artist you can be. It is important. I want the toughest competitors.”
The 50/50 and MidCity MMA representative got his wish by drawing Saadulaev in his debut. In Jakarta at ONE: FOR HONOR, he is ready to put on a show to dispatch his Russian rival and march toward the gold.
“That’s why I came to ONE. I want to prove my skill level and that I can be the best in the world,” he adds.