What happens when Garry Tonon fights Thanh Le for the ONE featherweight belt?

Garry Tonon (left) Thanh Le (right)
Garry Tonon (left) Thanh Le (right)
Atilano Diaz

Garry Tonon is just one win away from achieving his ultimate goal.

When Tonon made the transition from submission grappling to mixed martial arts in 2018, the American decided to fully dedicate himself to his dream of becoming a world champion in ONE Championship.

Now, four years and six fights later, Garry Tonon is closer than ever to achieving that dream.

The undefeated 'Lion Killer' is on the cusp of greatness, staring down the barrel of a title shot against the reigning ONE featherweight world champion Thanh Le, who represents his toughest test so far as a mixed martial arts fighter.

Garry Tonon and Thanh Le are set to lock horns on December 5th, at ONE Championship’s highly anticipated 10th-anniversary event, ONE: X.

Tonon is arguably the most successful grappler in history to transition to MMA. There will be no doubt about his credentials as a mixed martial artist if Garry Tonon can beat Thanh Le and be crowned the new featherweight champion.

Can Garry Tonon’s grappling shine against Thanh Le’s striking?

Garry Tonon is one of the most decorated athletes in the history of professional grappling. He has won multiple ADCC world championships, Eddie Bravo Invitationals, Polaris and IBJJF championships throughout his career on the mat.

He even submitted Japanese legend Shinya Aoki in a ONE Championship grappling super-fight in 2017 – a feat that was deemed virtually impossible by many.

Needless to say, when it comes to grappling inside the circle, the American has no equal. But can Garry Tonon truly shine against a striker as dangerous as Thanh Le?

Thanh Le proved himself worthy of the featherweight throne when he separated former champion Martin Nguyen from his senses in late 2020. The performance earned him the featherweight belt, and also led to multiple 'KO of the Year' nominations.

Prior to that, the Vietnamese-American knocked out the highly regarded Yusup Saadulaev, finished former ONE lightweight world champion Kotetsu Boku, and stopped the talented Ryogo Takahashi in one round.

To say that Thanh Le is the most dangerous featherweight in the promotion right now is an understatement, at least in terms of striking.

This matchup offers fans a classic pairing of striker versus grappler. It's a throwback fight in many ways because both men are purists in their respective disciplines. However, Garry Tonon has worked a lot on his striking since embarking on his mixed martial arts career, and the improvements in his stand-up game have been apparent too.

Conversely, Thanh Le has also worked on his skills on the mat – with Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Ryan Hall, no less. While Thanh Le hasn't been able to show much of his grappling in his brief time in the circle, it's safe to say he's no slouch in this department.

Garry Tonon vs. Thanh Le: This fight isn’t going the distance

One thing that's almost guaranteed is that this fight won't go the full five rounds. No one expects this bout to reach the final bell. Both 'The Lion Killer' and Thanh Le have expressed their intent to finish each other as fast as possible.

“I think it’s a risk worth taking [chasing a finish] for multiple reasons. One, obviously because now it’s in your hands. And two, because I think it just makes for a better fight in general and I think that’s a piece of this sometimes that gets lost,” Garry Tonon said in a recent interview with South China Morning Post.

Thanh Le seems to share his opponent’s sentiment.

“I know you all talked about [this fight] going to the judges, this thing ain’t going to the judges. Garry, you’re going to choke me, tap me, or I’m knocking you out or something. Something’s going to happen, we’re going to f*** each other up and I’m super excited,” Thanh Le said in the same interview.

This fight could come down to who can impose his will more. Can Garry Tonon bring this fight to the ground? Or will Thanh Le be able to keep it standing? That really is the question.

Garry Tonon is looking to grapple and play to his strengths, while Thanh Le will be looking to light his opponent up on the feet. It’s an interesting contrast of styles, to say the least. The result of this match will have major implications on the featherweight division moving forward.

Also at ONE: X is a showdown between reigning ONE bantamweight world champion Bibiano 'The Flash' Fernandes and No. 1-ranked bantamweight contender John 'Hands of Stone' Lineker.

And of course, featured on the card is the highly anticipated Muay Thai/MMA special-rules super-fight between flyweight legend Demetrious 'Mighty Mouse' Johnson and reigning ONE flyweight Muay Thai world champion Rodtang 'The Iron Man' Jitmuangnon.

Edited by Utathya Ghosh


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