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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

UFC Singapore 2018 fight card sets up Chinese charge with Li ‘The Leech’ Jingliang looking past eye gouge

The 30-year-old says controversial eye poke in UFC Perth loss is ‘history’ as he aims to return to winning ways at UFC Fight Night 132

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 11:07pm

Li “The Leech” Jingliang has brushed off his loss last time out – and the eye gouge controversy that swirled around it – as he focuses on leading China’s charge into UFC Fight Night 132 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Saturday.

“It’s history,” Li said on Wednesday. “You will see a different fighter this time around.”

The 30-year-old takes a 14-5 record into his welterweight clash against Japan’s Daichi Abe (6-1), and he leads four Chinese fighters – and a wave of 15 from the Asia-Pacific region – into the showcase event.

It’s being headlined by the wildly-popular American Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (33-10, one no contest), who’s chasing a record 21st UFC victory in his match-up with rising British welterweight star Leon “Rocky” Edwards (15-3).

But there’s plenty of attention swirling around Li, the most experienced Chinese fighter the world’s leading MMA organisation has on its books, alongside the appearance of rising stars Song “The Terminator” Yadong (11-3), Song “The Assassin” Kenan (12-3), and Yan “Fury” Xionan (8-1), the first female Chinese fighter signed to the UFC.

“We all know each other and we all support each other,” said Li. “It makes us all fight better. I’ve fought about 10 times in the UFC but compared to others I am still a new guy.

“It’s important for me and for the country that I win, and that we Chinese fighters win together. You can see the promise there is with Chinese UFC fighters and this is something we want to show the world.”

Last time out – against Australian 23-year-old Jake Matthews at UFC 221 in Perth in February – Li fought a brutal three rounds that was awarded fight of the night but also had the home fans enraged as the Chinese fighter stuck his hands into the face of his opponent as he fought to free himself from a body lock in the middle of the bout.

Matthews dismissed the move later as a “reflex” and raised Li’s hand at the bell in recognition of the war the pair had just waged.

But MMA fans at the venue and online were less than impressed. Li consigned the incident – and the fight – to the past as he looks to bounce back against a former Japanese domestic league champion in Abe.

“He [Matthews] had the fans behind him and I learned a lot from it,” said Li. “I was too eager. I was not calm and I was trying to knock him out.

“I was fighting in the enemy’s territory but that is not why I lost. The hometown crowd was cheering but that’s not why I lost. I was not good enough.

“But I’m feeling great. My team have helped me going through everything, and everything I did wrong last time.”

The loss snapped a 4-0 run for Li who has seen his stature in the UFC significantly grow over the past two years.

“In mixed martial arts the important thing is that you continue to improve your skills with each fight,” said Li. “You learn from each fight and that is what I am doing.”

There are 13 fights set down for the Singapore card – including a light heavyweight bout between rising Australian talent Tyson Pedro (7-1) and American veteran Ovince “OSP” Saint Preux (22-11), that’s widely being seen as a pathway to a possible future title shot in a division currently ruled by American Daniel “DC” Cormier (20-1, one no contest).

China’s 20-year-old featherweight Song Yadong, who fights Brazilian Filipe Arantes (18-9-1), and 28-year-old welterweight Song Kenan, up against Mexican Hector Aldana (4-0), are hoping to lay foundations in the organisation after both finished their UFC debuts at Fight Night 122 in Shanghai back in November in less than a round.

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

Yan fought on that same card – grinding out a three-round decision over American strawweight Kailin Curran (4-6) – and the 29-year-old tipped her hat to the role Li has played in spreading the popularity of the sport across the mainland among fans and aspiring fighters.

“I wouldn’t be here without him,” said Yan, who’s up against Brazilian Viviane Pereira (13-1) on Saturday’s undercard.

“We have all seen how far he has come and how far the sport has come and he inspires us to all keep improving. This is what we all want to show on Saturday.”