There are several countries around the world that home ultra talented fighters. Many of which are just waiting for their proper opportunities to burst onto a worldwide scale and gain maximum notoriety. With an entire nation aiding in support, it’s hard not to find motivation.
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One of the biggest possible support systems that a fighter could have in terms of the country is that of China… which, in fact, would make for the absolute biggest as the nation holds the largest population in the world with 1.4 billion residents.
Obviously, that could make for an incredible amount of weight and pressure to put on a single individuals shoulders to lead the way for the rest. But for MMA in 2019, multiple athletes are starting to make some serious noise from the land of the dragon.
Having started competing professionally the most recently in comparison to her UFC counterparts in Weili Zhang and Yan Xiaonan, is ‘The Panda’ Xiong Jing Nan. Despite that, she’s gone on to achieve the best success in the shortest amount of time.
Debuting in August 2014, Jing Nan joined the notable Chinese MMA promotion, Kunlun Fights where she took on Inna Hutsul and won via first-round armbar in just 51 seconds. In her two bouts that followed, two knockouts would be added to her resume thus providing a good sample size for what the future held.
It would be five straight fights and five straight victories via finish for the Jining native all of which came in the span of eight months. In Jing Nan’s sixth career bout, she would face Colleen Schneider and suffer her first and only career defeat. As rough as the first loss can be, it will act as a make or break type of point in a fighter’s career. There is only one way to go and that’s forward or back… and Jing Nan took the former and went full steam ahead as a strong representative of her country.
“Once you stand on the global stage, you are not only yourself, you carry on the hope of your family, your city, your country and all the people that ever believed in you and supported you no matter what,” Jing Nan told The Body Lock. “I want to tell the world that there’s always hope if you do not give up.”
Following the loss, Jing Nan would win four more bouts before getting the call in 2017 to fight in ONE Championship, her biggest stage yet. With Chinese MMA’s growth and Jing Nan’s fast success, two things that are cohesive, it forced her to perhaps get better in a quicker timely fashion as well. Because for the bar to be set high, it needs to be set in the first place.
“I feel proud to see my country being heard in this field,” she said. “Pressure? Absolutely! But pressure means motivation to me. It makes me grow and toughens me up. And it has always been a champion’s mission to carry on others’ hope and dreams alongside your own.”
If that regular pressure from her homeland wasn’t enough, add on that her second fight in ONE would be for the strawweight championship, her first time fighting for a title belt.
Taking on the unbeaten four-fight ONE Championship veteran in Tiffany Teo, Jing Nan would rise to the occasion in impressive fashion as the two battled it out for three and a half rounds until The Panda closed the show via strikes thus making her the first and only Chinese champion in a major MMA organization. Because of that, Xiong Jing Nan is truly standing on an island all on her own. But she believes that she stands out for more reasons than just that.
“Like what Ronda Rousey said, ‘Champions always do more. Champions do more than people who think that they’ve done more.'” Jing Nan quoted. “That’s what sets champions apart from the rest. As for me, it does not matter which ground I stand on, I will never forget who I am and what I want to achieve in this sport. Naturally, when under the spotlight, there will be lovers and haters. There will be people who praise you and people who despise. When I was younger, I used to defend myself. But now I’m more seasoned, I learned to block the outside noises that I have no control of but focus on the forces that I do. And that I believe is what makes me different.
“To be honest, I treat every match as my last one. I want to give my absolute best so no matter what comes in the end, I know I have nothing to regret about. I earned my belt the hard way and I will defend it with all what I have.”
Having already cemented herself in the MMA history books, Xiong Jing Nan was far from finished setting new standards.
At this point, Xiong Jing Nan had done it. She had officially put herself and her country on the map. And for her first title defense, she would get to fight back in her homeland on the biggest MMA stage.
ONE: Pinnacle of Power would take place in Beijing on June 23, 2018. The champion would go on to successfully defend her crown in front of everyone that has and continues to support her along her journey. However, outside of these certain pockets of the world, the striking sensation had seemingly continued to fly under the radar although she was now an established fighting champion.
Tack on one more successful title defense to her record and The Panda was now set for the biggest fight of her career in what wound up being the second true female super fight in MMA history as she met with the undefeated atomweight queen and ONE superstar, ‘Unstoppable’ Angela Lee in Japan at the end of March.
Lee would be the one coming up in weight as she attempted to capture a second divisional title by stealing away all Jing Nan had worked for. After an incredible war, China’s finest would be the one standing tall with her title still around her waist and her country’s flag raised high as she became the first and only fighter to defeat the young and incredibly talented champion that is Lee.
While the story in the West was more about Lee losing than Xiong Jing Nan winning, the defending champion remained unphased before and after, all while understanding what she overcame.
“We obviously are reading different news presses,” she said. “The presses here in China are all over my victory stories. But in fact, I have already proved myself in front of the whole world in Ryogoku Kokugikan [in Tokyo for ONE: A New Era] that night. That for me suffice already. People have opinion either ways, what really matters is to always stay true to yourself despite what others say.
“Angela Lee is a tough opponent to face and the best in her weight class so it was impossible to not be nervous. But I’d say I was more excited than nervous. I’ve been preparing for this match for a while and I was thrilled that I could get to apply what I prepared for in that cage… well, some of them I obviously did not prepare for.” Jing Nan finished with a laugh.
Fighting is an endeavor that requires the enduring of many different types of struggles and adversities, whether mental or physical. For Jing Nan and her Chinese athletes, they are no different.
With many trying and falling before her, she’s been the one who’s pushed forward the hardest and broken through in significant fashion. And certain little moments just encapsulate how much it has all meant to her. A perfect example of that would be the fourth round in her champion vs champion bout with Lee where she was caught in one of the deepest armbars you’ll ever see in this sport. Surviving off of sheer toughens and determination to not let her country down, Jing Nan would escape which led to her inevitable victory in the following round… something that made the win that much more satisfying.
“I think so,” she responded when asked if overcoming the late adversity made the win sweeter. “I believe the perseverance and grit I showed that night has drawn attention to this sport, to ONE Championship, and to my homeland China. I want to show the whole world what I am capable of, what Chinese are capable of.”
Accomplishing what she has already has been phenomenal. But as eluded to, it never stops for the 31-year old. Having done everything asked of her and then doing it to the very best of her abilities, Jing Nan believes it’s now her turn to get the chance to make even more immediate history… by getting her crack at a second title this time around.
Either way, she’ll continue to evolve as an individual while carrying her fighting nation on her back.
“That is what I want to do next, that’s actually what I have wanted to do for a while,” Jing Nan said of a rematch with Lee for her atomweight title. “Everything is possible in the cage but for me, if I walk out having learned something that makes me grow, then winning or losing is no longer that important to me. That being said, I have faith in myself and I do believe that I’ll fly the Chinese flag again!”
As much of a selfish sport as MMA is at its core, many of those who reside within its world couldn’t be more selfless. Of course, they have their wants and their goals for themselves. But for many, they’re thinking about a greater purpose that goes much farther beyond just themselves.
For the ONE Championship strawweight champion, Xiong Jing Nan, she may absolutely be one of a kind, but she’s not leaving her mark without representing more than anyone else could possibly imagine.
“My family name in Chinese is Xiong, which means bear,” The champion explained. “And China is famous for its Panda bear. I represent China when I compete on the global stage, that’s why all my fans call me Panda. I want to show the world what this sport is about. Behind each victory, there are hundreds of opponents who have pushed you, challenged you to make you the better person you are today. I want the world to see China.”