Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

UFC primed to explode in China, says rising star ‘The Leech’ Li Jingliang

Chinese fighter faces Frank Camacho at UFC Singapore this weekend and calls on world’s leading MMA organisation to stage its first mainland event

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 10:14am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 10:40pm

Rising mixed martial arts star Li Jingliang has called on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to come to China – and quick.

“It’s my biggest wish,” said Li. “The local governments are supporting the sport, the fans are supporting the sport and we have the fighters. So now we need to have the UFC as soon as possible.”

The UFC is yet to stage an event on the mainland, despite rising support for the sport and despite there being an ever-increasing number of Chinese fighters on the books of the world’s leading MMA organisation.

The 29-year-old Li (12-4) is leading the charge and is on the card this weekend as the UFC makes its return to Asia with the staging of the Fight Night 111 event in Singapore.

The night is being co-headlined by former UFC world champions Holly Holm (10-3), who’s up against Bethe Correia (10-2-1) in a bantamweight clash, and heavyweight Andrei Arlovski (25-14), who’s set to face off against Marcin Tybura (15-2).

But there’s a heavy “local” flavour to the card with Li and six other Asians involved in the 11 fights lined up at the first UFC event in the region since Seoul hosted one in November 2015.

“If is great for us to be back in Asia, and for me to fight in a city there are so many Chinese people,” said Li. “I think as a fighter you always perform better when you feel at home.”

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When the UFC announced the event back in February, the organisation’s senior vice-president of international and content Joe Carr said the focus was on hosting events in Beijing or Shanghai. The UFC has previously staged two events in Macau – in 2014 and Carr vowed to ever bring a “diminished product” to the region, after they were met with mixed reviews

It makes sense, given the UFC claims last year in China its broadcast content totaled “234 million hours viewed”.

Li said increased attention on China couldn’t come soon enough.

The Chinese fighter known as The Leech is set to face Frank Camacho (20-4), who fights out of the Northern Mariana Islands, in a welterweight bout on Saturday night and comes to Singapore off the back of two straight wins, the last being a second-round stoppage of American Bobby Nash in January that furthered Li’s growing international reputation.

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“I have never felt better in my life,” said Li. “I have been preparing for this event for months and what I want to say is look out for Li Jingliang on Saturday night.

“I have been satisfied with my performances so far but I have a lot to learn still. I am in a tough weight division so I know I have to be an all-round fighter, a complete fighter, if I am to get to the top.”

The Singapore card was robbed of another Chinese interest when freshly-minted UFC signing Wang Guan pulled out with an injury but Li said the attention his own bout would attract back home this weekend was sure to fuel the fires of support for the sport.

“I know everyone will be watching me and I will do China proud,” he said.

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A sellout crowd of 12,000 is expect at the Singapore Indoor Stadium as 35-year-old American Holm – the woman who famously dethroned Ronda Rousey to win the UFC world bantamweight title – tries to get her career back on track after three straight losses.

Much attention will be focused also on Korean star “The Stun Gun” Kim Dong-hyun (23-3-1, one no contest) as he comes up against the promising American Colby Covington (11-1).

Like China’s Li, both have their eyes set on a possible future clash with UFC welterweight title-holder Tyron Woodley, the American having beaten Kim back in 2014, the only time the Korean has lost since 2012.

The 35-year-old Lee said he had been keeping up with his opponent’s taunts – as revealed in the American press, with the 29-year-old Covington saying he was ready to fight his way into title contention past a field of welterweights that were “looking old”.

No matter, said Kim.

“I’ve listened to him, and I’ve tried to read his mind to work out my strategy,” said Kim. “I look forward to hearing what he says after fight night.”