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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

Li ‘The Leech’ Jingliang comes unstuck against Australian UFC prospect in Perth’s fight of the night

Chinese fighter’s winning streak halted on same bill as Mandarin-speaking middleweight Israel Adesanya announces himself to the world

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 February, 2018, 3:40pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 February, 2018, 9:53pm

Chinese star Li “The Leech” Jingliang had to console himself with the Fight of the Night bonus at UFC 221 on Sunday after falling prey to the prodigious punching of Australian welterweight prospect Jake Matthews.

A cool US$50,000 is sure to ease some of the pain at least for Li who fell to 14-5 overall and had a 4-0 win streak broken by the beefed-up young Aussie who came out swinging in the first and even survived what appeared to be a nasty eye rake from the 29-year-old Chinese fighter when he was trying to escape his opponent’s clutches on the ground.

The packed Perth Arena bayed for Li’s blood after a few replays of the incident but Matthews (12-3) later brushed the incident off, more intent was the 23-year-old on a victory that might well have sounded a warning in the UFC’s talent -rich welterweight division.

“Sometimes in MMA you do whatever it takes,” said Matthews, who took a unanimous decision after the three rounds. “This fight was about bringing the enjoyment into it for once. All my fights I’ve gone in not to lose, rather than just going in and doing what I do, showcasing what I can do. The confidence was always there. I just needed to bring it out and show everyone I could do it.

“In training, it’s all there. Today, it still wasn’t quite 100 per cent, but about 70 per cent of what I can do, and hopefully I can bring more in next time. I want to heal up a little bit, take some time to enjoy life a little bit after back to back fights, and then get back in there toward the end of the year.

It was Li’s third UFC Fight of the Night bonus in a row and it sent the arena nuts, a mood that carried on through to the headline event when the roof was almost raised by number one-ranked Cuban middleweight Yoel Romero when he landed a left, and then a brutal uppercut at 1:48 of the third round to knock the lights out of the number two-ranked American Luke Rockhold.

The 40-year-old Romero was a late call-up to the card after title holder Robert Whittaker fell to sickness and injury and he weighed-in three pounds over the limit before the bout – meaning he couldn’t take home the interim belt on offer. But the way he danced and pranced and then pounded the 33-year-old Rockhold should ensure he gets a shot at the title.

“Rockhold is a very good fighter, former UFC champion and Strikeforce champion, and I’m very happy that I fought the best in my division,” said Romero. “I trained very hard for this fight. We worked very hard in sparring and on the power that Luke has.”

It was the UFC’s first venture to the Western Australian capital and now the region awaits news of where next the organisation might venture. There are high hopes there will be a return soon to China, after the successful event held in Shanghai last November.

One of the stars to emerge from the UFC 221 card was already putting his hand up for a possible spot on any card in China.

Middleweight prospect Israel Adesanya made his UFC debut – and made the MMA world sit up and take notice with his punishing performance against Australian Rob Wilkinson that also won him a US$50,000 Performance of the Night bonus.

The one-time kick-boxing champion has a legion of fans on the mainland thanks to his exploits with the Wu Ling Feng organisation and he did was he does best on Sunday – he knocked the other man out.

The 28-year-old Nigeria-born New Zealander laid Wilkinson (11-2) low late in the second record to improve his overall MMA record to a perfect 12-0 – with 12 KOs – before revealing he was determined to be part of any of the UFC’s plans for China.

“China threw everything they had at me when I was kick boxing and I love the place,” said the man who during that part of his career was known as The Black Dragon as he collected a record of 65-5-2 before turning his attention to MMA.

“I’m in the UFC now and I want to be in the top 10 this year. My Chinese is rusty now – maybe I should have got a Chinese girlfriend. When the UFC go back there they’re going to put me on the card as they want to display The Black Dragon again.

Rusty or not, Adesanya then switched to Mandarin with a message to his Chinese fans – “I’m coming back,” he said.