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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

‘Together we can make China proud’: Li ‘The Leech’ Jianling ready to lead the Chinese charge at UFC’s first mainland card

The rising welterweight arrives at 13-4 as a co-headliner at Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena on Saturday night

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 November, 2017, 1:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 November, 2017, 9:37pm

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) makes its debut in mainland China this weekend and there was always going to be a need for a local star to come to the party.

Enter Li “The Leech” Jingliang.

The rising welterweight star arrives at 13-4 in the sport and as a co-headliner at Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena on Saturday night, his bout with American Zak Ottow (15-4) sharing top of the bill with the appearance of the just-deposed British UFC middleweight champ Michael Bisping (30-8) against a potential title contender in American Kelvin Gastelum (13-3).

But the locals only want to know about The Leech.

“It will be a great night for me,” he said. “I am proud to be fighting for the UFC at home and in front of the Chinese fans. Together we can make China proud. We won’t let the UFC down and we won’t let the world down. It should be a great night.”

Jingliang heads a cast of eight Chinese fighters spread down through Saturday night’s 12-bout card, and he has been blazing a trail in the UFC over the past three years and across seven bouts.

The 29-year-old Xinjiang-born fighter comes home riding a two-win streak that most recently saw him wage a personal war against the brick wall that goes by the name Frank “The Crank” Camacho (21-5) at the UFC card in Singapore back in June. Li took some massive shots early, somehow shook them off and overpowered the man from Guam.

It was rightfully awarded fight of the night and the strength of Li’s victory was confirmed by the fact that Camacho came out again at UFC Sydney this past Saturday and again won fight of the night after a similarly brilliant bout against local hope Damien Brown (17-11), that this time went his way.

“What I learned from my last fight is that I start too slowly,” said Li. “That won’t happen again. The UFC is the biggest organisation in the world and every fight you have you learn something new and you learn more about yourself as a fighter. Last time I got hit hard early but I can’t let that happen again.”

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The enormity of Saturday night has not been lost on Li, given the long wait China has sat through in waiting for the UFC to touchdown on the mainland. He’s been issuing rally cries to local fans this week and said he was proud to lead the way, given he boasts a career that dates backs a decade and includes his days as welterweight champ with the Hong Kong-based Legend FC organisation.

“I feel I have some responsibility to fight for China,” said Li. “I have been fighting for a while and I know people look up to me. But this time I have seven Chinese fighters on the card with me and that makes me feel strong. They can all be good prospects for the UFC, and they can show the UFC what Chinese fighters can do. I hope everyone can see our passion, and the passion of the fans, on Saturday and we can fight in China more in the future.”

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There’s no escaping the fact, either, that in the 30-year-old Ottow, the Chinese fighter is facing his toughest test to date or that the UFC are seeing just how good he is, with an eye on a future that would, should Li win, see him climb the rankings and inch closer to what would send everyone in these parts into raptures – a title shot against welterweight incumbent Tyron Woodley (18-3).

“I am still young and I want to win the championship,” he said. “If you don’t want to win the title, you shouldn’t be fighting.”