The thunderous, swinging left hook came from Li Jingliang at 4:25 of the first round and landed flush on the chin of Santiago Ponzinibbio. It sent the Argentine crashing down and stocks in the Chinese welterweight soaring sky high at UFC Fight Island 7 in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. “The Leech” (18-6) is back, and the knockout – the seventh for Li in the UFC – handed the 32-year-old the biggest scalp of an already stellar and extended career. It was later rewarded with a handy US$50,000 bonus. “I really expected to either knock him out in the first round or Santiago knocking me out, because he is such a powerful fighter,” Li said afterwards. “I would’ve actually preferred to go all three rounds to show off more of my skill set, but it feels great. "The Leech" @UfcJingliang spoiled Santiago Ponzinibbio's return with a lethal left hand #UFCFightIsland7 pic.twitter.com/XdatXnc434 — ESPN MMA (@espnmma) January 16, 2021 “Santiago is such an aggressive, intense fighter and we were prepared for him. The coach told me as soon as the fight began to match his level of intensity, to not back down.” A test against a top-15 fighter must surely now loom on the horizon, and maybe even a ranking for Li himself, such was the quality the 34-year-old Ponzinibbio (27-4) brought to the cage. But the Argentine hardly fired a shot in anger, unable to cut down the distance as Li ducked and danced early on. UFC: Zhang vs Yan ‘China Derby’ would be 50-50, ‘The Leech’ says There was a cheeky left on 90 seconds from Li – the first blow landed. There were low calf kicks, and there was constant movement from the Chinese fighter. He’d landed 20 significant strikes to his opponent’s 11, according to UFC Stats, before the moment Ponzinibbio came forward, a Li left missed, and back went the Argentine, swaying. Just as he did, Li swung high and hard from the left again – and it was bang on the money. Lights out. “I feel great,” Li said in the cage afterwards. “It is awesome to have fans back to watch the fight. I have to thank the UFC for the opportunity to prove myself. I’m just really excited. “It’s 4am in China now and I appreciate all the fans who are watching me. I thought it was a left jab that got to him so watching the replay it was different.” So the words Li spoke pre-fight rang true, about that last effort of his – a unanimous decision loss to American Neil Magny (24-7) last March – and how he had just read that situation all wrong. The pandemic had forced Li through Thailand and South Korea on his way to Las Vegas that time and he had felt rushed and jet-lagged and had looked completely out of sorts against Magny. It was a surprise simply because Li had looked so very good previous to that, showing hitherto unseen patience and guile in picking Brazilian Elizeu Zaleski (22-7) apart for the third-round TKO in Shenzhen back in August 2019. That’s the Li who returned to action on Sunday. In control and picking his shots with the focus of a man who carries 15 years of fight experience with him. Last time out Ponzinibbio had landed the result of his career so far in knocking out Magny. The pundits had him then just one or two fights off a title shot. But that was two years ago and the Argentine hadn’t been seen in the Octagon since. Ponzinibbio had been laid low by injuries and a nasty staph infection that at one stage threatened to end his career. He’s also changed his fight name from “Gente Boa” (or nice guy) to the “Argentine Dagger” as a statement of intent and he’d had spent the past week predicting a quick knockout of Li would fast track him into the top 15. So much for that. Word is that the UFC are looking to staging a card in Asia in 2021 – if the gods smile and the impressive Covid-19 protocols laid down in Abu Dhabi can be replicated. A title defence for China’s strawweight champ Zhang “Magnum” Weili (21-1) is in the mix, and a fight for Li against a top-ranked contender could now be on the cards. The fact Sunday’s bonus was Li’s sixth now from 14 UFC fights shows just how much he adds to any night. There had earlier been flashes of style from Chinese bantamweight Wu “Mulan” Yanan (11-4), and she came home hard late in her bout against Joselyne “La Pantera” Edwards (10-2), But the damage had already been done. Edwards, the first Panamanian fighter to grace the Octagon, outpointed Wu with a sustained arm-bar attack that lasted most of the first round. The 25-year-old then charged Wu down in the second, and there was enough thrown from her side of the cage in the third to ensure this was only ever going one way. The judges had it 30-27, 30-27, 29-28 to Edwards, and Wu fell to 1-3 with the UFC. There’s plenty of promise there with the 24-year old Wu, for sure, but there’s also plenty of work ahead.