UFC Manila preview: get to know the four Chinese fighters

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UFC Manila Zhang Lipeng
UFC Manila Zhang Lipeng

UFC Manila will take place at the Mall of Asia Arena in the Philippines on May 16, 2015. Four fighters from China are featured on the preliminary card.

Since the UFC made the first The Ultimate Fighter: China reality show, a few more names have been added to the promotion’s roster that hail from the giant country. Several of them will appear on this card. Zhang Lipeng and Ning Guanyou were the winners in the respective welterweight and featherweight divisions. Yao Zhikui was also on the series. Li Jingliang was already signed to UFC and debuted almost exactly one year ago to the day.

Ironically, the URCC in the Philippines was one of the first promotions to ever feature Chinese fighters outside of China. The first UFC fighter from China, Zhang Tiequan, actually became a champion within the promotion.  So this is history coming full circle.

Zhang Lipeng

Zhang Lipeng became a name in China with the advent of Art of War, which was sponsored by the Sheik who eventually bought into Zuffa. Zhang has always been the likable guy in the cage, but it hasn’t translated into a good record for him. However, he still has to be considered as one of China’s first and best homegrown MMA fighters. Zhang has been featured on RUFF and Real Fight cards, but his record is much heavier in the win column due to many unlisted China fights.

Zhang entered TUF China on his name alone, and then carried the superb coaching from Scott Sheely on to three straight wins. The final saw him face fellow China legend Wang Sai, and for lack of a better description, the fight was not impressive. But what Zhang did was to carry on seeking out better coaching, and his next two UFC fights saw him improve measurably. Zhang has gone from being a completely unpredictable fighter – and not in the good sense – to putting it all together with his biggest improvements in takedowns and in-fight consistency.

Zhang meets Kajan Johnson at UFC Manila. Johnson has a huge amount of experience and hails out of Tristar, plus he’s a fellow TUF vet and has Octagon exposure. Zhang will need to throw every ounce of his heart into this fight and really listen to his corner. He’s at the point in his game that it’s possible to stand up to a higher level fighter but he will need to prove it.

Li Jingliang

UFC Manila Li Jingliang
UFC Manila Li Jingliang

Li “The Leech” Jingliang is cocky, confident, and one of the best homegrown grapplers in China. He’s translated China Top Team Coach Zhang Tiequan’s experiences into lessons and has very intelligently upped his overall game and strategy against different opponents. Before his UFC signing, Li was with Legend FC. The division’s kingpin was Bae Myung-Ho, a beast of a wrestler from Team MAD, and Li knew that beating him was his most important goal. When the two finally contested for the title, Li came out and took down Bae repeatedly – a feat that hadn’t happened before. He didn’t claim the gold that night but his efforts put him on radar. Eventually Li did take the Legend belt after Bae vacated.

Now Li has two UFC fights under his belt and is 1-1 with the promotion, although arguably it could have been 2-0. He has shown improvement continually, but now is a critical time in his career. The beast in him needs to translate into a finisher if he’s going to continue up the ranks. Mentally, Li has the ability to do it.

And he’ll get that chance against Dhiego Lima. If Li is confident in his striking now, there is a possibility he could do some damage. If the fight goes to the ground, Li has proven to be tough to finish, and is equally aggressive as anyone now, as his nickname implies. That’s a lot of “ifs”, and now is Li’s time to turn them into a W.

Ning Guangyou

UFC Manila Ning Guangyou
UFC Manila Ning Guangyou

Ning Guangyou is an athlete in every sense of the word. He’s an unknown on the world scene, but at home he’s a decorated Greco-Roman wrestler who learned how to mix in great footwork and striking to make his MMA style. He’s a diamond in the rough who never got the opportunity to shine. Back in Art of War and Legend FC, he faced two of the best Korean fighters that were far above his weight, Kwon A-Sol and Kang Kyung-Ho. Ning made them fast, action-packed bouts, even while being on the losing end.

Ning’s entrance to the TUF house made him a hidden favorite with many Chinese MMA fans, because they knew his eventual rival, Yang Jiangping, was more of a playboy who knew he possessed talent – completely opposite of Ning’s humble, kind character. It did predictably get to the finals between the two, but Ning showed nothing of what he is truly capable of. He stayed cautious against Yang’s striking – a very wise decision, actually – but he does indeed possess some counters Yang isn’t used to facing and he failed to employ them.

Now Ning will have a strong chance to get the job done of selling his talents against Royston Wee, the first Singaporean in the UFC. Wee has back to back wins in the Octagon through a tough takedown and top pressure game, but Ning’s Greco-Roman should be more than enough to negate it. Ning is tough and talented, he just has to show more of the latter. Against Wee, it’s likely that he will

Yao Zhikui

UFC Manila Yao Zhikui
UFC Manila Yao Zhikui

Yao Zhikui has been pegged as a prospect coming from China, but he’s had very little experience to develop it. As the younger brother of shuai jiao brawler Yao Honggang, it’s surprising that he doesn’t display more of a complete grappling game; instead he’s turned into a nice striker.

Yang Jianping couldn’t finish him during the TUF China semifinal, and this is what got him noticed. While he’s not really ready for the Octagon level of flyweights around him, the chance he has can’t be overlooked. He’s 24 and needs to notch up wins to stay here.

Against Nolan Ticman, he can put all his talents on display. And he should. If Yao can show that he’s more well-rounded than Ticman, and if he mixes his striking with his shuai jiao, this is his biggest chance to prove he is a prospect.