Thanh Le is on the doorstep of greatness as he prepares to step back inside the Circle.
And after three consecutive knockout victories, Le is adamant that this World Championship contest won’t see the judges’ scorecards.
“It’s going to be a chess match, and you’re going to see some fireworks eventually, whether it’s 10 seconds into the fight, or five, 10, 15 minutes – whatever the case may be. Somebody’s going to sleep,” he says.
“The finish is going to be up to Martin and how he approaches me. If he decides to step into my range and test my power, then it could be a short fight.”
That statement is not Le boasting, but rather a fact based on his mixed martial arts career.
He holds an 11-2 professional record with a perfect 100 percent finishing rate. What’s more, ten of those victories have come via knockout.
Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Le has faced top-notch competition since making his ONE Championship debut in May 2019.
First, he overcame a rocky opening stanza to knock out Yusup “Maestro” Saadulaev. Next, he captivated audiences with back-to-back first-round finishes over former ONE Lightweight World Champion Kotetsu “No Face” Boku and Shooto Pacific Rim Featherweight Champion Ryogo “Kaitai” Takahashi.
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Those impressive wins earned Le a shot at Nguyen. And even while the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic forced many fighters out of their usual routines, the top contender was able to maintain his focus in Louisiana, United States.
“Really, we didn’t skip much of a beat at all with training because I keep such a tight-knit group. I train at a small gym, and I had my guys come into my gym,” he says.
“It’s been business as usual. I’ve had a little less of a chance to bring guys in and go travel and train, but since ONE was comfortable with setting a date and an event location, I was then able to travel, train, and bring guys in.
“I continued to train, develop my skills, and be the best me possible.”
Le will need to be at his best to lift the ONE Featherweight World Title from Nguyen’s waist.
The highly decorated Sanford MMA star became a household name when he knocked out Marat “Cobra” Gafurov to win the featherweight belt in August 2017 and then knocked out then-ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang three months later to become the first-ever two-division ONE World Champion.
And just like Le, Nguyen is also a devastating finisher. He holds a 13-3 professional record with a 92 percent finishing rate and nine victories coming by KO.
“The Situ-Asian” has continued his dominance in recent outings, with his last two fights resulting in memorable finishes over former featherweight titleholder Narantungalag “Tungaa” Jadambaa and the division’s #2-ranked contender, Koyomi “Moushigo” Matsushima.
“Martin has power in his right hand. When he hits people, they know it. He’s got great experience and has been the champion for a long time. He’s a big draw, and he deserves to be,” Le says.
“Martin’s a smart guy, and he’s the champion for a reason. I think he’s going to come out, calculate some things, and collect information, and we’re going to be back-and-forth for a while until one of us breaks discipline.”
The World Title bout is allotted five rounds, but Le reiterated that he doesn’t plan on going the distance.
“I’m not going out there and losing by decision. It’s just not going to happen,” he says. “I’m going to go out there, put all my cards on the table, press the issue, and make sure I get this W.”
That mindset is not only due to Le’s exciting, aggressive style. It’s also because he wants to push himself beyond perceived limits and test his skills against the very best in the business.
“The only reason I do this sport is to prove to myself and my family that I’m one of the best fighters in the world, and I belong here. I belong at the top of that list as the World Champion,” he says.
“I’m not trying to find an easy route to get [this belt] wrapped around my waist. I’m trying to fight the best guys in the world, and Martin is the best in the world. That’s why I want to fight this man.”
Of course, Le still plans to be careful. He’ll stick with his strategy and wait for his adversary to make a mistake.
At that point, the Vietnamese-American will have only one goal in mind.
“When Martin finally reaches, I’m going to knock him out,” Le says. “Just like I’ve been doing during my entire ONE career.”