‘I will hold nothing back,’ says Li Jingliang as he prepares for toughest UFC challenge yet in Perth
Li (14-4) faces rising Australian welterweight prospect Jake Matthews on Sunday morning
Chinese UFC star Li Jingliang has so far this week been making friends with the locals on his first trip down to Australia. Now he wants to frighten them.
“It has been fun so far but I came here to fight,” the 29-year-old told the Post on Friday. “Every time I step into the cage anywhere in the world I want to win and I want to show the power of Chinese fighters. I will hold nothing back.”
Li (14-4) will face rising Australian welterweight prospect Jake Matthews (11-3) as part of UFC 221 at the Perth Arena on Sunday morning. It’s a card that is mostly about possibilities as the world’s leading mixed martial arts organisation looks to further its reach around the globe.
With local UFC world middleweight champion Robert Whittaker (19-4) out through injury and illness, the headline event sees the man he was set to face – second-ranked Luke Rockhold (16-3) – facing the number one-ranked Yoel Romero(12-2). But the fact that Li has been positioned high on the main card – and against one of the UFC’s brightest Australian prospects – is another indication of how highly the Xinjiang-born fighter is rated.
And, of course, how important the Chinese market is to the UFC power brokers.
So far, Li has been paying his way, with a four-fight winning streak, back-to-back Fight of the Night bonuses – and the echoes of a stunning first-round TKO over Zak Ottow (15-5) in front of an adoring home crowd in Shanghai back in November still ringing in his ears.
“Whenever I fight it is not just me there in the cage,” said Li. “I can feel my family support me and the fans and I feel like we are all in there together. Nothing can really describe the feeling I had winning in front of my family in Shanghai and how much that win meant to me and to the sport in China.
“Emotionally for me it was very special and now I want to continue to build on that win, and I would like of course to get another bonus so I can spend that on my family and on my training.”
In the 23-year-old “Celtic Kid” Matthews, the Chinese fighter is facing arguably his toughest opponent yet in the UFC – in which Li now holds a 6-2 record that has seen him growing in both strength and confidence with each bout. The final touches for this bout were applied under the guise of the MMA maestros at Phuket Top Team – a chance for the fighter to escape the Chinese winter and to adjust to conditions similar to summer in Perth.
“I have a great team behind me and we all now know what we have to do to win in the UFC, where every single fighter you face is a good fighter – you have not chance to rest,” said Li. “I feel fit and relaxed and ready to put on a show. I have watched the videos of Matthews – if I said I didn’t you would know I am lying. We are matched well and I think it will be a great fight.”
For his part, the Australian has been working out with New Zealander Luke Jumeau (12-4) in the lead up to the bout, and tapping into that fighter’s memories of a third-round loss (guillotine choke) to Li back in 2013 when they were both fighting for the Hong Kong-based Legend FC organisation.
Matthews said he knew Li would come out with all guns blazing – as he did in Shanghai – and the Chinese fighter wasn’t about to dispute that call on Friday.
“Before my last fight I had been too slow at the start in my fights,” said Li. “I have been working hard to stop that and to come out as strong as I can. This is what will happen again on Sunday. For me the focus is just on the next fight, and my team can take care of the future plans. My mind is just on this fight, on what I have to do in the cage.”
Li has spent some time acquainting himself with Australia’s rather unique collection of fauna – and falling heavily for a 30-kilogram, hairy-nosed wombat named Bubs – but now it’s full focus on the fight ahead.
“As a professional fighter I know I have to travel the world, and the UFC gives me the opportunity to visit these wonderful places but I have to do my job and keep doing it,” said Li. “That means winning and putting on good show. I know that my family and my fans will all be back in China and they will be watching and hoping for me. I want to come back to celebrate with them over Chinese New Year and we will have a big banquet. It is my job to do my family and my country proud.”