One of the most exciting striking prospects on the featherweight scene, Thanh Le is a Korean TaeKwonDo practitioner fighting out of Louisiana. With an arsenal of superbly-honed kicks and debilitating strikes to call upon, Thanh has punished midriffs and rattled jaws since entering the amateur ranks in 2012. A string of first round TKO’s emboldened Thanh to turn pro in late 2013, and although he was surprised in his debut by then-3-0 veteran Robert Dunn via first round submission, Thanh has worked diligently on his all-round game and improved leaps and bounds over the last 4 years.
A fearsome foe for even the most experienced fighter, Thanh began building his current six-fight win streak with a first round TKO of undefeated 5-0 Justin Martin at XFC in Ponchatoula, Louisiana in April of 2014. The fight served as the main event that night, Thanh proving a hugely popular crowd favourite – and with good cause. While Martin was able to complete a slam mid-round, Thanh showed great poise and was able to retaliate with a succession of brutal elbows from his back to draw blood from Martin. Le then shrugged off a rear naked choke attempt to regain verticality, and here he would punish his opponent. A patient Le landed a pair of hard rights to stagger Martin and back him up against the fence, before unleashing a volley of pinpoint lefts to end the fight standing.
Two months later, Le would blast through 3-3 Matt Vaughn, scoring a first round submission of his own in the process, before advancing to the co-main event of World Fighting Championships 27 in September 2014. Here, the promising Le would face 16-fight veteran Shawn Fitzsimmons – and would make a huge statement with an outstanding 27 second knock out! A devastatingly quick right hand dropped Fitzsimmons early, and though the veteran was able to withstand the initial onslaught of punches on the ground, Le would posture up, recalculate, and drop a succession of nasty elbows to draw the stoppage from the referee – it was an eye-opener for everyone at WFC, and next up would come an opponent of real ability himself.
Josh Quayhagen, a Bellator veteran, had been finished just once in his 7-2 career, and had even gone three rounds with multiple-time world kickboxing champion Cosmo Alexandre – against Thanh Le, however, he would not last three minutes.
The respect between the two was palpable – both played a patient waiting game, looking to lure the other in. Le missed with a couple of strikes, while Quayhagen took centre cage and looked to walk his opponent down. When they engaged, both men looked to finish with fast, looping punches, before Le launched a lightning right head kick that Quayhagen eat the most of, but to his enormous credit, survived. Le wanted the finish there and then, but Quayhagen was able to tie Thanh up with his back to the cage, land a couple of short punches, and even reverse position. A bit of back-and-forth jostling then resulted in some hard knees to the midsection from Le, only for Quayhagen to fire back with some hard rights that clearly staggered Thanh. Thanh’s response? A picture perfect spinning wheel kick, that Quayhagen avoided and duly punished with two or three accurate punches. If fans had thought the tide had turned, they would have been shocked to see Thanh land the next right to drop Quayhagen, and the swift follow up was academic. It was a great fight, with WFC later reporting that Quayhagen had broken Thanh’s jaw!
It was a fight that saw Thanh’s stock rise in near-meteoric fashion. While WFC wanted Thanh back in the cage in May of 2015, and Legacy FC later had him pencilled in for June, Le would next appear on The Ultimate Fighter Season 22.
Thanh’s performances impressed many, and his first round TKO of Andreas Quintana left fans in no doubt of Le’s outstanding striking abilities. Brutal body kicks, including a Siver-esque spinning back kick, stunned the New Mexico native before Le ended the fight via a crushing overhand right. His second round submission loss to tough Swede Martin Svensson, meanwhile, acted as a flash-back to Le’s pro MMA debut – there was no question about Le’s stand up, which was near-indefensible at times; the only doubts revolved around his chances when put on his back by a strong grappler.
While many still expected Le to be granted a chance in the UFC on the merit of those performances, it seems fate had other ideas. At 4-1 in professional bouts, Thanh would be released and granted the opportunity to gain further experience elsewhere.
At this point, some fighters have hung up their gloves and faded from memory. Thanh, however, was keen to put things right. Submission specialist Cody James would challenge Thanh in his first post-TUF fight, and wound up getting blitzed in just 40 seconds in June 2016. In February of this year, 11-4 Legacy veteran Alex Black would last little longer, being dispatched in under two minutes in what the promotion considered one of the stoppages of the year so far.
Brutal right hands dropped Black, and the same medicine put an end to matters in as smart a fashion as Thanh could have hoped for. It was a thing of rare beauty, and a clear indication that Thanh remains ready to compete at the very highest level. Legacy Fighting Alliance Featherweight Champion Kevin ‘Angel of Death’ Aguilar could be next – and if that is the case, fight fans are in for a real treat.
But whether Le signs terms elsewhere in the mean time, the MMA Vanguard strongly advises fight fans to catch this Louisiana native in action as soon as possible – you will not be disappointed.