The Mecca of kung fu and martial arts development and practise for over 1,500 years, China has also been on the rise to becoming a prominent MMA powerhouse in recent years.
Although most of China’s early UFC fighters, including China’s very first UFC fighter, Zhang Tiequan and all the alumni from The Ultimate Fighter: China didn’t fare that well (not having been around since 2016), to say that this is typical of all Chinese MMA talent would not only be a severe understatement, but a serious crime!
With Zhang Weili becoming China’s first UFC champion as well as the first UFC champion out of all of East Asia since Kenichi Yamamoto in 2000, China is now producing solid prospects at an accelerating rate in the UFC and other major promotions such as One Championship, with a few even making the Top 15 rankings in their respective weight classes.
With that said, let’s take a look at the rising up of Chinese mixed martial arts talent in the big leagues in MMA Kung-Fusion: Rise of the Chinese Fighters!
Zhang Tiequan: China’s First UFC Fighter
Zhang Tiequan was quite the national hero. A master in sanshou and China’s first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, Zhang spent most of his career in Art of War, China’s largest promotion at the time, and amassed an undefeated 13-0 record with a 100% finishing rate before taking his talent overseas by signing with World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC). This would secure Zhang’s legacy as the first Chinese fighter to be signed by a major MMA promotion.
Zhang kept his 100% finishing rate and undefeated record intact with a submission win over Pablo Garza in his WEC debut, but then lost to Danny Downes via unanimous decision. With the WEC later merging with the UFC, Zhang tagged along and became China’s first ever UFC fighter.
Although Zhang won his UFC debut via another submission, he lost his next 3 bouts and ended his UFC career with a lackluster 1-3 record. Nevertheless, Zhang opened the door to the UFC for future Chinese prospects including current welterweight Li Jingliang, whom Zhang mentored.
The Ultimate Fighter: China
In 2013, the UFC aired its first “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show in China. With former Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le as the chief coach, The Ultimate Fighter: China brought together some of China’s best featherweight and welterweight talent at the time.
Fighters were split into the teams Sky Dragons and Flying Lions, who were head-coached by Zhang Tiequan and Ao Hailin respectively. Welterweight Zhang Lipeng and featherweight Ning Guangyou were the winners of the show. Although none of the contestants from the show have fought in the UFC since 2016, The Ultimate Fighter: China was essential to the acquiring of many of the elite Chinese talent in the UFC today.
Li Jingliang: China’s Most Experienced UFC Veteran
After winning the Legend FC welterweight championship, Li “The Leech” Jingliang signed with the UFC in 2014 and won his debut against undefeated prospect David Michaud via split decision. Li lost his next match against Nordine Taleb, but bounced back with a knockout win over Dhiego Lima that earned Li his first Performance of the Night bonus.
Unfortunately, Li was handed his second UFC loss by Keita Nakamura shortly after, making it 2-2 for the Chinese fighter in his first 4 UFC bouts. In a quick turn of events, however, Li Jingliang is now on a roll, having won 7 of his 9 last fights with 5 knockouts, including one over Capoeira mestre Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, which momentarily earned Li a spot in the Top 15 Welterweight rankings.
Zhang Weili: China’s First UFC Champion
Despite losing her first pro bout to current One Championship atomweight contender Meng Bo, Zhang Weili hasn’t lost since, boasting an impressive 21-1 record. A former Kunlun Fight strawweight champion, Zhang won her UFC debut back in 2018 against Danielle Taylor by unanimous decision.
Fast-forward to exactly 12 months and two fights later, and Zhang Weili was ranked no.6 in the women’s strawweight rankings finding herself in her home country fighting for the title against a relentless Jessica Andrade.
Despite coming in as the underdog, Zhang successfully brought home the gold and finished Andrade in only 42 seconds to become China’s first UFC champion. Most recently, Zhang Weili successfully defended her title against former strawweight queen Joanna Jędrzejczyk in an epic back-and-forth clash that may become 2020’s fight of the year.
With that being said, one could reasonably argue that Zhang is not only the reigning strawweight champion, but also among the greatest strawweights of all time.
Having made his professional debut at the very young age of 15, Song Yadong was offered his first UFC fight at the age of 19 back in 2017 against Indian fighter, Bharat Khandare.
Despite stepping in on short notice, Song Yadong made quick work of his opponent and finished him in the first round with a guillotine choke that earned Song a Performance of the Night bonus.
Song’s next challenge came in the form of veteran Felipe Arantes, whom Song knocked out with a nasty elbow that earned the young fighter his second straight Performance of the Night bonus.
After defeating Vince Morales in his third UFC appearance via unanimous decision, Song Yadong stepped up in competition to face The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America winner and 30-fight veteran Alejandro Perez.
Song put the lights out for Perez with an overhand right that handed Perez his very first knockout loss. Due to such a dominant performance, Song Yadong was secured a spot in the Top 15 Bantamweight rankings at the age of 21 and is currently ranked no.14.
As of now, Song Yadong has yet to be defeated in the UFC, holding a record of 5-0-1, and is ranked at no.3 in the Top 25 MMA Fighters Under 25 by ESPN.
Having been training under Team Alpha Male alongside Urijah Faber as well as former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt and with time on his side, Song Yadong has a clear cut path to capturing UFC gold in the future.
Another rising strawweight contender, Yan Xiaonan is one of China’s first female UFC fighters, the other being Wu Yanan.
Yan Xiaonan has been climbing up the women’s strawweight ladder after defeating Kailin Curran in her UFC debut.
Like Zhang Weili and Song Yadong, Yan Xiaonan has yet to be defeated in the UFC, holding notable victories against Angela Hill and former title contenders Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Claudia Gadelha.
Having overpowered such big names has ranked Yan Xiaonan no. 3 in the women’s strawweight rankings, and we could be seeing a China vs. China title bout pretty soon.
Another formidable welterweight, Song Kenan made his UFC debut in 2017 against Bobby Nash. Despite being the underdog, Song scored a vicious one-punch knockout against the Michigan native in only 15 seconds.
As of now, Song Kenan is 4-1 in the UFC, with 3 knockouts. His only loss so far came by unanimous decision against Alex Morono in a bout that nonetheless earned Song a Fight of the Night bonus.
Tibet’s first UFC fighter Su Mudaerji won multiple championships in China and boasted a 100% finishing rate with some highlight-reel knockouts, including a head-kick knockout, a spinning-back kick knockout and a flying- knee knockout.
His amazing talent caught the attention of former UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin. Although he lost his UFC debut to Louis Smolka back in 2018, Smolka spent most of his time controlling the Tibetan prospect on the ground, and we did not get to see Su Mudaerji’s outstanding standup game until his second inning against the more seasoned Andre Soukhamthath.
Despite coming in as the underdog, Su Mudaerji put on a striking clinic against Soukhamthath, with the judges scoring the contest 30-26, 30-26 and 30-25 all in favor of Mudaerji.
Most recently Su Mudaerji made his flyweight debut against Malcolm Gordon and returned to his finishing ways, knocking out Gordon in just 44 seconds, the third fastest finish in UFC flyweight history.
At the age of just 24, Su Mudaerji has certainly put himself on the radar as a force to be reckoned with.
Although his last fight was his UFC debut back in 2017, Wang Guan is still worth mentioning, as his debut was a split decision victory against the seasoned and elusive UFC veteran Alex Caceres.
Despite the split decision victory, the fight was nowhere near close as Wang Guan dominated Caceres in the first two rounds and dropped him twice. With the first knockdown, Wang Guan was really close to finishing the fight in the first round, only for Caceres to survive long enough to be saved by the bell.
Prior to his UFC debut, Wang Guan put up a record of 17-1, with 11 knockouts and 2 submissions. His only loss came by decision. All in all, fans should keep an eye out for Wang Guan, should he ever fight in the octagon again.
Although he has yet to step foot into the octagon, Lu Zhenhong was originally scheduled to make his UFC debut in a rematch against undefeated prospect Movsar Evloev, whom Lu previously lost to via unanimous decision.
Holding a record of 17-6, Zhenhong Lu has 12 finishes on his resume, including one against longtime veteran, the controversial Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett. Should he finally manage to make it into the UFC, or any other major promotion, Zhenhong Lu could be another promising talent in the ever-increasing pool of formidable, world-class Chinese prospects.
Chinese Fighters Outside of the UFC
The UFC is not the only promotion to feature top Chinese prospects. In fact, some of the top talents from China fight in the Singapore-based One Championship, where Xiong Jingnan reigns supreme as the women’s strawweight champion.
Xiong Jingnan: China’s First MMA World Champion
Before Zhang Weili, Xiong Jingnan became the first Chinese fighter to capture a world title with a major MMA promotion. After a 9-1 run with Kunlun Fight, Xiong defeated April Osenio in her One Championship debut via TKO.
The victory earned Xiong a title shot in her next bout against Tiffany Teo, whom Xiong also defeated via TKO to capture the women’s strawweight world title.
As of now, Xiong Jingnan has yet to lose the title, having successfully defended it 4 times against big names such as Angela Lee.
Li Kai Wen
Having fought at both featherweight and bantamweight, Li Kai Wen earned his spot in One Championship after winning the Beijing Featherweight Tournament back in 2014.
Although he has yet to see his name in the One Championship rankings, Li Kai Wen is one of the most exciting prospects in One Championship. Having lost only 2 of his 11 bouts in One Championship so far, Li Kai Wen has established himself as a knockout artist, with his 10-second knockout of Rodian Menchavez being the fastest finish in the promotion’s history.
Currently ranked no.2 in One Championship’s women’s atomweight rankings, Meng Bo is the only woman to have defeated current UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili.
A former sanda champion, Meng Bo holds a record of 15-5 with 10 finishes, one of which was against former One strawweight title challenger, Laura Balin.
Having won both of her One Championship bouts by first-round knockout, Meng Bo may well be bringing another world title to China.
Another atomweight contender, Heqin Lin is currently ranked no.3 in One Championship’s women’s atomweight rankings. Although she lost her professional debut against fellow contender Meng Bo, Heqin rallied an impressive streak of 14-1-1 in her last 16 bouts and shone in her One debut against Jomary Torres, whom she submitted with a triangle choke in the first round.
A former WBK tournament champion, Tang Kai impressed in his One Championship debut landing a vicious head kick that put his opponent, Sung Jong Lee, to sleep.
Tang Kai has continued his winning ways since then, having defeated both Team Lakay prospect Edward Kelly and Keanu Subba via unanimous decision. Tang Kai is currently 3-0 in One Championship.