UFC TUF China winner Zhang LiPeng will be back in the Octagon on January 18, 2015 to face Chris Wade at UFC Fight Night 59. This will be the remarkable Chinese fighter’s third UFC appearance, and his first on US soil.
It’s been a tough road for the staple of China’s MMA scene. Money, training, travel, stress, all of it has added up to a lopsided record that hasn’t shown what this man is yet fully capable of. Zhang’s humbleness and self-deprication have probably been his worst enemies, as he first showed to the international MMA community when he admitted his poor performance in both his TUF semi-final win and his decision over Wang Sai in the finale.
Zhang has always known what he’s needed to change, and it has slowly come to happen. In his first fight beyond TUF, Zhang came out of his shell against Brendan O’Reilly. He blasted repeated takedowns and showed aggressive control on the ground. He attributed the win to a new coaching effort. And in his upcoming fight, he will have spent more time in a far more advanced camp than he’s ever had the opportunity to before.
Asia MMA spoke with Zhang during fight week and his final preparations in the US.
Asia MMA: You have been in the US training with Scott Sheeley and Cung Le. Has this made you feel any differently ahead this fight? If yes, how so?
Zhang: I came to Coach Scott Sheeley and he has given me so much advice on game plan and past performances, and here my technique has also been improved, and there are a lot of more advanced methods in training, plus very good friends with me training!
Asia MMA: What is the best part about being in the US for your camp?
Zhang: I like the United States, this was the first time I came to the United States. The people here are very warm, very civilized. When I arrived, the first problem was to get over the jet lag as soon as possible; I came here a week ahead to adjust to it.
Asia MMA: In your first fight in the finals with Wang Sai, you said in your post-fight interview that you did not follow your coaches’ game plan. Then in your second fight, we saw a very improved LiPeng. That fight was many take downs and ground control. Would you say this is your style of fighting, or was this just your game plan for O’Reilly?
Zhang: I know my match with Wang Sai wasn’t very adequate, and I had physical problems. In my second game, I was going to fight with him standing, but what happens in the cage, well you have to play it by ear!
Asia MMA: In what areas have you been improving since that fight?
Zhang: My technique was not very mature, particularly with regard to standing, so I have greatly improved that.
Asia MMA: What do you think of your opponent?
Zhang: My opponent, I know he is a fierce competitor, and a wrestling champion. He is very good!
Asia MMA: Now that you have been successful in 2 goals (win the TUF finale and your first contract fight), what are your career goals?
“My goal is to get into the top-ten in the UFC lightweight division!”
Asia MMA: When you look at the division, do you have a strategy for climbing the ranks? Are there any opponents in particular whom you want to face?
Zhang: I’ve watched the Lightweight Champions, they are very powerful, and very comprehensive. No matter what kind of opponent I am faced with, I will train specifically to fight against him.
Asia MMA: In watching your fights in China and the UFC, in the past your confidence – your mental game – has been one of your weaknesses (almost too humble). However, in your last fight, you became a totally different fighter. How did you change yourself? How did you gain inner strength and confidence?
Zhang: When I got onto The Ultimate Fighter Championship in China, this made a big change in my confidence level: I know the most important thing is to have confidence in yourself!
Asia MMA: Are you getting a lot of recognition in China now, and how? How do you feel about representing China in the UFC?
Zhang: There are a lot of Chinese wrestling fans supporting me, I won’t let them down. I believe I am fighting on behalf of China and all Chinese martial arts athletes and Chinese wrestling fans!
Asia MMA: What does your family think of your success?
Zhang: My family is very supportive and it’s because of their support that I can succeed. I’m very grateful, I’m hungry parents for their support and love for me. I love my family!
Asia MMA: We spoke before about the state of MMA in China. You said that the training is what needs to change the most. Have you been able to share the training wisdom you’ve gained with more Chinese fighters?
Zhang: The training and coaching in China needs to be changed. China probably has good Muay Thai instructors and jiujitsu coaches, but not a very good MMA coaches. I hope all the Chinese fighting athletes will go abroad for training, learning techniques and training methods. I believe that as China slowly grows, it will become a world power in MMA!
Asia MMA: Are you excited about fighting in the US?
Zhang: I am very excited about fighting in the United States, I am really looking forward to it! Thank you!