A great philosopher* once said that everybody has a plan. Until they get punched in the face.
The world was left to wonder whether Wei Lei had ever heard these words. The self-proclaimed tai chi master’s own plan was to defeat self-proclaimed mixed martial artist Xu Xiaodong in a bout at the start of the month. It lasted all of 10 or so seconds and the bloody state of Wei’s mush by its end showed exactly where that plan went.
In the weeks since, the internet has been ablaze across China, fueled by a “traditional martial arts versus modern combat” debate that is, in reality, a nonsense. This fight was a piece of sideshow freakery, staged between two shameless self-promoters in an effort to further their personal causes.
It was little wonder former pro wrestling star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson didn’t appear from nowhere and hand Xu a can of his patented Whoop-Ass – or a chair – such was the distance between what the world watched and anything remotely resembling real sport.
That it was hijacked in some quarters by a misguided sense of nationalism speaks volumes about the collective outrage the world seems to exist in these days. Seems we all just have to get angry, each day, about something.
Xu has continued to beat his own drum like a teenager locked in his bedroom, calling out any “traditional” martial artists. The powers that be in China acted like any wise parent. They just turned out the light. And so Xu has been sealed off from the world, with his Weibo and WeChat accounts cut.
But what’s great for fight fans about all this is that it took one of China’s real sporting stars to put it all into perspective.
“Even though Xu Xiaodong is not a really professional MMA artist, that fight has really helped to spread MMA to those people who really don’t know about the sport,” said Wang Guan. “They now start to talk about it, learn about it and they start to learn about which is the biggest organization, which the UFC is.”
Mixed martial arts is here to stay – as the rest of the world can attest – but it’s been struggling to make an impact across the mainland. Until now.
Wang (aka The Dongbei Tiger) and Li “The Leech” Jingliang are now steeling themselves for battle at next month’s Ultimate Fighting Championship card in Singapore. The biggest game in the business returns to Asia on June 17 and the fact that there are two Chinese fighters on the card tells you all you need to know about the Las Vegas-based UFC’s future plans.
Chinese fighters have of course long been a staple of Asian heavyweights such as the Singapore-based ONE Championship, but the UFC had been slow on the uptake. Not any more.
The 31-year-old Wang is reportedly a major talent – he carved his way through what was once known as the Shanghai-based Ranik Ultimate Fighting Federation (RUFF) to win its featherweight crown and carries a 15-1-1 record into his match-up against American Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Cacerea (12-10).
Meanwhile, Li (12-4) is on a two-fight winning streak and has signed a four-fight deal as he looks to climb the UFC’s welterweight rankings. He should, by rites, be too good for American-Canadian Jonathan “The French Spider” Meunier (8-1).
These guys are where the real action is. And they both know it, judged by the confidence they have in their ability – and role they have to play in the sport further down the road.
“In China I have had a pretty huge career, big events, big TV numbers,” said Wang. “So I am bringing MMA fans, but also the public who like to watch my fights. I will bring my fan base to the UFC.
“MMA in China is just building, it’s growing. It still needs some time as it doesn’t have much history behind it.”