The vacant ONE interim featherweight title is up for grabs at ONE Fight Night 15, as former champion Thanh Le takes on dangerous Russian contender Ilya Freymanov in Bangkok, Thailand. Ahead of fight night, Le took part in a quickfire Q&A session where he lifted the lid on his mindset before his championship matchup.
You’re facing Ilya Freymanov for the ONE interim featherweight MMA world title. Did you expect to fight him at some point in your career?
I knew that was a fight that was eventually going to happen, no matter what. Whether I beat Tang Kai and was champion, or maybe I had to work my way back or something like that. I knew that fight was going to happen. I would have 100 percent preferred that fight before I called it quits.
What is your honest assessment of Freymanov?
He’s very good. Obviously, he’s done some damage in the division, so that’s very appealing to me that he puts a hurting on people. It’s a very appealing fight, and he comes forward. He’s aggressive, he’s very skilled. So, it’s really nice to get a name like that.
You know, the reason I’m in this sport is to fight the biggest, baddest dudes. And when that day comes that I don’t want to, it’s time to call it. That day ain’t today. As soon as I got the name, we were excited. We figured out if four weeks was enough for a great opponent like Ilya. It sounded good, so we signed on that dotted line and now, we’re ready to kill him.
Do you approach this fight as if you’re facing the lineal champion?
It doesn’t change anything as soon as I sign on the dotted line. Nothing is more important than beating you up. That’s the job. That is why I’m here. That’s why I signed up for this.
How do you see things playing out between you and Freymanov?
This is everything I worked for and it’s obviously the most important thing to him, too. To know that you’re getting in there with somebody who’s dedicated their life to attaining this thing and this right now is the most important thing that is in existence in his brain, and likewise on the other side of the coin, he’s going to get the best Thanh Le. I guarantee I get the best Ilya, and it’s going to make for fireworks, for sure. I think it’s going to be a relatively quick and difficult fight. And I like that a lot.
What is your mindset like heading into this world title fight?
It’s always cool when you plan he’s the big, bad, whatever, ‘monster’ and when you step in the ring, you realize that that’s not the case. That you’re really, really good, too, and you’re one of the best in the world and things start to play out really well for you in that fight round by round.
From weigh-in and staring at the man’s eyes, it’s really cool. Obviously, that’s probably about as far as it goes, but the whole “big bad” versus the little underdog guy, that’s always cool because that’s how I plan for opponents. And, for me, when I’m planning, I don’t have much speed, I don’t have much power. I’ve got to fight like this because I’m making up for certain things that this guy will have. But I know in the back of my head and I know in actuality I have those things. So, I get to plan like I’m a weak or slower person and fight the right way in that manner. But I get to add those attributes on top of it, and that’s why I’m so successful.