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Sunday, October 2, 2022

Tang Kai Captures Featherweight Gold Over Thanh Le at ONE 160

Tang Kai, ONE 160 Credits: ONE Champion

After a quick KO in his first title defense against elite fighter Garry Tonon, ONE Featherweight Champion Thanh Le will take on young forward Tang Kai in a different style matchup at ONE 160.

From the start of the battle, Tang’s plan was clear. He immediately started using a low kick on the outside of the champion’s leg, which was very effective thanks to Thanh Le’s stern blade stance. It soon became clear that this was going to be troublesome, and by the end of the round, Le was beaten in the calf. However, the champion was not without his moment. Although the attack was not clean, Tang Kai used his quick defensive moves to retreat from his fist. In doing so, however, he exhibited poor eyesight, leading the review team to speculate that while he might be fine, he was injured.

In the second round, Le already had to start switching positions due to his leg being beaten. This allowed Kai to open up and start marking champions with his hands more than just his kicks. Le, for his part, moved forward and threw less early in the second round, possibly due to an uncomfortable lefty stance, or just being wary of kicks. After speculation on the podium whether Lehui would attempt a counter-attack, he did so with two minutes left in the game, but failed to finish after grabbing one leg. It wasn’t long before he was able to stagger Don and let him fall while running straight back, away from Le’s blitz, but the challenger was able to recover.

Le attacked again in the final two minutes of the bout and got some nice two-punch combos before Tang kicked him off with a huge leg. The champion had a chance to get up, but ignored it because his leg was already badly damaged. However, after a few kicks, Mr. Tang skillfully made him stand up and forced him to stand on the tender left leg. With the gap widening on the scorecard, Le returned to being somewhat cautious to end the round. Fights in ONE MMA are scored as a group, though, so a big bout can get it back right away.

Le was left-handed at the start of the third round and apparently wasn’t comfortable there, as he was constantly switching back and forth, forced to choose between a position he wasn’t very good at and a position where his left leg would take more hits up. He was slow in either stance and was often countered by right straights and left hooks when trying to push forward, making it difficult for him to gain minutes. As the leg kick damage started to increase, even on the right leg, and Don started opening up more with both hands and kicks, it became clear that consistently winning minutes like this was nearly impossible, and Le might need knockouts to win the fight. He again landed an awkward knockout, but Don’s quick moves easily avoided it, as well as most of the blitz now telegraphed and the looping hook of the ever-more-KO-hungry champion. Le did force Tang Kai to fall back from time to time, but never cleanly. As the round drew to a close, it became the longest fight of Thanh Le’s career, never getting past the midpoint of the third round. Despite his beatings, bruises and falling behind, his fighting spirit is worth watching and his body is in better shape than expected.

The champion was almost entirely left-handed as he moved forward in the fourth round, making it difficult to track down his opponent due to quick moves and beaten legs. Tang Kai’s left hook shook violently, causing him to squat down. Somehow, Thanh avoided a real knockout and went for a desperate knockout while Kai choked. The challenger pushed Le behind him and took the top spot, then stood up to force Le to stand up too. An equally leading left hook started to land a lot for Tang Kai in space, landing a swarming combo as he forced the enemy back. Le survived the onslaught, somehow came back with his own left uppercut, and then took a powerful shot with about two minutes left in the round that hurt Kay a little. Still beaten horribly, Thanh Le pulled the defense and pinned Tang Kai on top of him before trying to turn around and retake it. The strategy almost worked, but again the challenger avoided being placed on the bottom, stood up into a clenched grip, and parted back into the open space. Both were injured this round, but Le apparently took more damage again and needed a KO. Even with ONE scoring the entire game, there is no degree of advantage in the final round to win the decision.

In the fifth round, Tang was still in high spirits and his movements were still sharp. Even Le didn’t look tired, although of course he was bruised all over. The challenger’s check left hook still hurt Thanh Le as he telegraphed and looped all his punches in desperation to find the knockout. At one point, Le was kicked and pushed Tang to the ground with a punch, but he couldn’t take advantage of it when he tried to jump on the front choke. Tang’s flow is getting bigger and bigger, and his right fist starts to switch levels. Le again tried to grab a leg, but knockdowns were clearly not his forte, and his right leg, now the back leg in a left-handed position, was beaten to the point where he couldn’t push away from the back foot to get deep into the buttocks for removal. As the round drew to a close, Thanh Le pressed and threw desperately. With twenty seconds left, his miraculous left hook hit Tang Kai on one knee. The challenger showed his mettle before recovering, before hobbling again. With the champion belt time running out, he charged forward even more brazenly, only to salute his opponent and stun Thanh Le one last time to end the fight.

After an astonishing five-round fight between the two fighters, the ring announcer made the obvious call, “There’s something new!” donning the featherweight belt for Tang Kai, the first in ONE Championship history Chinese MMA men’s champion.


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