In 2020 Thanh Le scored two highlight reel knockouts and earned the ONE Championship featherweight title. So when asked to recall his favourite memory from the year he must have been spoiled for choice.
But the Vietnamese / American featherweight says the standout moment took place many miles away from the cage or the ring. What will live longest in Le’s memory is being greeted by his family and his pregnant wife at the airport,
“Coming home from Singapore after winning the belt and having my mom, dad, and my wife holding signs and balloons saying, ‘Welcome Home, Champ’ was my happiest memory,” he said.
Quarantine regulations meant Le had to spend several weeks in Singapore before the bout at ONE: ‘Inside the Matrix’. They say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and this was definitely the case for the newly crowned champion as he returned to the US with a brand new belt,
“It was just really nice to be with my team, who was traveling with me, and having my entire family together. Seeing my wife have a little belly bump because I hadn’t seen her in a couple of weeks, that was really cool, too.”
He was not expecting them to be there and says this is what made the moment so special,
“That little moment of coming down the stairs, not expecting them to be at the airport at all, and having them show up with that was my best moment.”
You might think Le would have his sights set on defending the title in 2021. Maybe even moving up a division to challenge lightweight champion Christian Lee, who does not appear to be significantly bigger than the newly crowned featherweight king.
But Le’s main hopes for the new year are much more selfless. He’s not focused on enhancing his burgeoning reputation, winning more silverware or boosting his bank balance.
First and foremost the new featherweight champion just wants life to return to something which more closely resembles normal,
“Everybody being able to return to normalcy. That means a lot. That means people are doing what they love again. People are able to go enjoy the weekends, the sunlight, the summers – you know, really getting back to normal. I want to see people enjoy their lives without being scared of touching anything that’s in public.”
Having won four fights in a row, and with a baby on the way, it is difficult to believe Le is not enjoying life himself. There are plenty of contenders looking to steal his crown, and Martin Nguyen is entitled to believe he might deserve an immediate rematch.
But whatever the future holds in store he will look back on 2020 with good memories. It was a banner year for Le and the featherweight champion will be looking to build on that success in the coming months.