Zhang LiPeng became the first winner from the Ultimate Fighter first season in China at UFC Fight Night 37 in Macau on March 1, 2014. He fought three rounds agains fellow Chinese MMA mainstay Wang Sai, and garnered a controversial split decision win.
Zhang took the opportunity to compete in TUF as a welterweight, one division above the class he’d made a career in. Both he and Wang Sai were expected to face in the finale and the eventuality became reality. Zhang’s grappling was shown to be better, whereas Wang Sai is known as a striker. With a gifted decision, Zhang earned a six-figure fight contract from the UFC. MMA-in-ASIA spoke with him about his plans for his new high-profile career, and how he will take his training to the next level as a fighter based in China.
MMA-in-ASIA: After winning the TUF China Welterweight Finale against Wang Sai, what’s next for you?
Zhang: After yesterday’s fight I find there are so many areas of technique that I need to learn to improve. So I will take a little bit of rest and then keep training to make myself stronger.
MMA-in-ASIA: In what area specifically do you think you need to improve?
Zhang: By the third round, I was getting tired, so I need to improve my conditioning, and my striking, standing skills. Also, well everything I need to improve.
MMA-in-ASIA: You bulked up a lot to go up to welterweight. Did that affect your cardio?
Zhang: Actually, since I fight at lightweight, so this time was okay, it was very comfortable for me.
MMA-in-ASIA: Will you make your next fight in the UFC at lightweight?
MMA-in-ASIA: Who are some fighters you think you might meet when you begin?
Zhang: When I fight in the UFC, I will only have one goal – to get the belt. So it doesn’t matter who I fight. I will fight to get the belt.
MMA-in-ASIA: When will you fight next?
Zhang: I have to let the cut on my face heal first.
MMA-in-ASIA: How many stitches did it need?
Zhang: Twelve! I need to recover, then start training. I don’t know when I will fight, but I will get ready for it.
MMA-in-ASIA: Did you get any other injure in the fight?
Zhang: Everything’s good.
MMA-in-ASIA: If you continue to train in China, how will you improve, and rise to the next level?
Zhang: I have to think about this. Yes, I need to improve my team. I need to find a good coach, or maybe go overseas. I haven’t decided. But I agree, I need to improve. I need a better team.
MMA-in-ASIA: You should learn English and train at a gym in the US.
Zhang: I will study it! I will study English hard.
MMA-in-ASIA: The infrastructure for MMA is not that advanced across China, in terms of training methods, the way coaches are recruited, cultural differences. So in order to advance, the teams need to reinvent themselves from the top down. How can this happen?
Zhang: First of all I agree with you. It’s very difficult to change the culture. In terms of the gyms, an owner needs to control, and they think differently [than western models]. I think that maybe someday if Chinese people really understand this sport, it will change. But right now, I can do nothing, only change myself, maybe have my own team or go overseas.
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you think you personally have raised the profile of MMA in China, made more fans because of TUF?
Zhang: Everything will come naturally. It doesn’t matter how many fan I have, I have only just myself. I need to start from the beginning, and train myself to get better and stronger.