Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

UFC Beijing: China performance institute will make us an MMA super power, says Li ‘The Leech’ Jingliang

  • Li Jingliang faces David Zawada at UFC Fight Night 141 on Saturday
  • Says UFC can ‘show Chinese fighters the right way’ with Shanghai complex
PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2018, 3:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 November, 2018, 3:48pm

Li “The Leech” Jingliang believes he has seen a vision of the future of mixed martial arts.

“You watch,” said Li. “In a couple of years, China will be an MMA super power.”

Ten fights in to his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) career – and more than a decade in the fight game – has placed Li as the grand master of Chinese MMA and he’s warmed to the role of sage this week in the lead up to UFC Fight Night 141.

The welterweight will face Germany’s David Zawada (16-4) at the capital’s Cadillac Arena on Saturday night, a case of the hometown boy returning to what will no doubt be a hero’s welcome as the UFC marks its debut in Beijing with a 12-bout card that features Li among the nine Chinese fighters in action.

“Of course it feels comfortable here in Beijing,” Li said. “My wife and family will be here. Just about everyone I know will be here and people have been travelling to get here from all over China. It’s our chance to show people what MMA is all about.”

The lead-up to Saturday kicked off with the UFC announcing plans to invest an estimated US$13 million on a performance institute in Shanghai, designed to further the cause of MMA across the Asia-Pacific region but – given its location – the focus will surely be on finding and developing generations of Chinese fighters.

Li believes the initiative will be a game changer.

“This news makes me very happy,” Li said. “The earlier this happens, the better. There is a lot of potential in this country and now we can see this grow.

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“The UFC can train fighters in the right way, and they can show Chinese fighters the right way. This is my 11th fight and things have changed so fast.

“More Chinese fighters are emerging and we are all getting better and better. If we make use of the new performance institute, this can only continue.

“It’s an opportunity for fighters to change their lives. But first we all need to put on a great show on Saturday night.”

A look down Saturday’s card shows the UFC has cast its net far and wide in developing its stable of Chinese fighters.

So far, the Las Vegas-based promotion has 11 Chinese on its books – out of 28 from the Asia-Pacific region.

UFC in China: plans revealed to open state-of-the-art performance complex in Shanghai

The latest to sign has been 22-year-old flyweight Su Mudaerji (11-3), the first fighter of Tibetan ethnicity to join the UFC and called up at just two weeks’ notice to be thrown into the fray against American Louis “Da Last Samurai” Smolka (13-5).

The Chinese contingent have so far in 2018 played a supporting role in UFC fight cards as far afield as Hamburg, Germany, and Perth, Australia.

The record overall for the year is seven fights contested and six fights won, including a 4-0 sweep of bouts at UFC Fight Night 132 in Singapore back in June.

That card featured The Leech overpowering Japan’s Daichi Abe (6-3) over three rounds for the win, and also showcased 20-year-old bantamweight phenomenon Song Yadong (12-3, two no contests), who has this week rebranded himself, dumping the “Terminator” tag for something a little closer to home.

And so we’ll have “The Monkey King” facing American Vince Morales (8-2) on Saturday night as he looks to extend his run in the UFC to three straight victories.

In Singapore, Song landed a stunning right elbow at the death in the second round to send Brazilian Filipe Arantes (18-10-1, two no contests) down and out, and the buzz has been building about him ever since.

To add to his arsenal Song has been camped out at Team Alpha Male in California under the watch of UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber.

But the fighter sees a day coming soon when China’s rising MMA stars can learn a little closer to home what they need to know about making it at the very top levels of the sport.

“A lot of us travel very far as we try to improve ourselves as fighters,” Song said. “You need to learn from the best and that’s what I and other Chinese fighters have been doing with Team Alpha Male.

“To be able to do that in China would be perfect. You can see that many people are learning about MMA and the sport is moving forward in China with more fighters, more gyms and more fans.

“We are all excited by this but now it is up to us to keep on winning.”