Thanh Le happy to take the hard road if it leads to a title shot
The 34-year-old signaled his arrival in May with a vicious head kick knockout of Yusup Saadulaev in the second round of their clash in Jakarta, followed by a first-round mauling of hardened veteran Kotetsu Boku in Bangkok three months later.
They were the kind of performances that had pundits immediately whispering about the prospect of a of a title shot in the very near future for the promotional newcomer.
And Le has heard those whispers. His clash with surging Japanese fighter Ryogo Takahashi at ONE: ‘A New Tomorrow’ in Bangkok on Friday will be his 14th professional bout in a career dating back to 2013 and he’s well aware that the stakes are higher than ever before,
“This Takahashi fight is the most important fight in my life,” Le admitted.
“It’s obviously nice to hear my name (being mentioned with possibly) getting a title shot but I’m not trying to rush anything.
“I’m trying to beat all the best dudes in the division. I want to beat every single guy on the way up. I don’t want to skip anybody. I don’t want to take a shortcut to the title.”
Le has added further depth to what is perhaps ONE’s most talent-rich division, and he realises he has plenty of work left ahead of him to prove he’s worthy of a challenge to incumbent champion Martin Nguyen,
“The most important thing is to be the best in the division and the best in the world. I can’t skip guys if I want to do that.”
“I want to rightfully work my way all the way up to the world title but if it’s tomorrow, next week, or five years from now, as soon as I get that shot against Martin Nguyen, I’m going to put everything I can into the camp, and I’m going to go out there and win that world title.”
“I think it is bound to be an exciting fight. Martin’s an exciting fighter, a skilled fighter, very experienced. There’s a reason he’s got the belt.”
As mouth-watering as the promise of a title shot down the line may be, first and foremost lies the formidable and dangerous challenge of Takahashi.
And as impressive as Le has been, the Japanese fighter has been almost in equally fearsome form.
A veteran of the Shooto scene, the 30-year-old has had just one appearance under the ONE banner, but it was one that left an indelible mark. He made his promotional debut on the same Manila card Le did, scoring a first-round TKO victory over Keanu Subba.
‘Kaitai’ is currently riding an eight-fight win streak that dates back to 2014, and Le knows he’ll need to be on top of his game to get his hand raised at Impact Arena on Friday. But he’s confident he has the blueprint he needs to ensure exactly that.
“Takahashi does a really good job of sticking to, and executing, his game plan. He doesn’t easily break, and he is not undisciplined in his approach, so I’m going to continue to make him move his feet, and get out of his realm and comfort (zone).”
“Being able to adapt in the ring, having a high fight IQ, and having an understanding of where certain things fit in the fight game (is important). It doesn’t hurt that I’ve done martial arts for a long time, so I’m quick off the line and defensively sound as far as footwork and movement.”
The native of New Orleans, Louisiana prides himself on his ability to entertain a crowd. That was no better exemplified than with his brutal walk-off knockout of Saadaeleav, which was named a nominee for ONE’s ‘Knockout of the Year’. Le has every intention of putting on another show-stealing display against Takahashi this weekend.
“I’m going to beat him up for three rounds. If he wants to push the fight and bring the fight to me, then he might get laid out early.”
“I just think the match-up is really bad for him. We just play from such a distance that I don’t think he has the tools for it and we do it better.
“We’re going to continue to use our feet and our footwork, and I think it’s a little bit too much for him. It’s just a skill set that not a lot of guys have and they’re not used to dealing with it.”
With the promotion’s sights set on establishing a foothold in the Vietnamese market in 2020, Le promises to bring precisely the kind of star power they’re looking for.