ONE Championship’s March 31 event from earlier this year was a big deal for several reasons.
For starters, it marked the first time that the promotion had hosted an event in the country of Japan and it was undeniably their biggest card to date. Its four title fights accompanied by the debuts of former UFC champions, Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez were all the evidence needed of that. That’s not even to mention additional stand out performances from legendary Thaiboxer, Yodsanklai Fairtex, and BJJ ace turned rising featherweight, Garry Tonon.
Ultimately there was one fight that stood tall out of the loaded night of combat sports greatness and it was the evening’s co-main event.
In said bout, fans were treated to the second-ever female champion vs champion super fight. It would be the undefeated 9-0 atomweight queen, Angela “Unstoppable” Lee’s big attempt to try and become a dual division titleholder by claiming the strawweight strap. However, the reigning and defending strawweight champion, China’s “Panda,” Xiong JingNan, had drastically different plans.
The two champions would put on a fight of the year contender as they battled back and forth over the course of four rounds and some change. In the end, JingNan would snatch Lee’s zero away when she continued to unleash her onslaught of punches and kicks to the body of her deflated opponent early into the fifth round.
For China’s finest, the win would act as somewhat of a coming-out party as she silenced the doubters on the largest possible stage. The stoppage extended her current winning streak to nine straight and was her third title defense.
“It’s a champion’s duty and responsibility to defend his/her title,” JingNan stated when speaking to The Body Lock. “Being a champion means much more than just the moment that you take the glory and the belt on stage.
“I might not be the most talented, but I will be the hardest working one. I am truly honored that I get to represent my country on the global stage and in a Tokyo event once again. I think me being part of ONE: Century shows the increasing competition level of Chinese MMA. It’s my turn to let the world hear China.”
This Sunday, October 13, ONE returns to Japan for yet another blockbuster event, ONE: Century. Largely surpassing their prior all-time biggest event in the aforementioned A New Era, the 100th major show in ONE: Century will be split into two separate parts with the first being headlined by the JingNan vs Lee sequel.
This time around, it will be the Bali MMA product’s turn to try and further etch her name into the walls of the MMA history museum.
As JingNan prepares for her massive rematch with Lee, she’ll be doing so with an added element; the weight cut.
Going down to atomweight to try and remove her opposition’s title from their grasp, this will be JingNan’s first time back at 115-pounds since she made her ONE debut in December 2017 against April Osenio. Prior to that, she had only fought in the division once.
“I think none of us likes weight cutting,” she said. “Weight cutting is definitely challenging, imagine to be put on a low-calorie diet, combined with high-intensive training every day. Guaranteed to be grumpier than before. But I’m coming off alright, weight is on point, I’m looking forward to being in that cage again!”
In the pairing’s initial encounter, JingNan was seemingly the one with the most to lose. If Lee won, she would be the history maker crowned as only the second women’s double champion in MMA history and the very first in ONE Championship.
Any fight at the highest level of the sport comes with a decent serving of pressure. Throw in a title and it’s amplified significantly. Make that on one of the most sizable cards in recent memory, regardless of promotion, and the tension only gets thicker.
Combine all of that with the addition of a second world championship and the weight of the world’s largest nation on your back and the scenario practically demands that the athlete comes out on the other side shining bright like a diamond.
Now with the roles reversed opposed to ONE: A New Era, “The Panda” has everything to gain.
“That’s a really good question,” JingNan said with a laugh when asked to compare the pressures of both fights. “Having been on both sides of the coin definitely helps to humble me. Of course, I’m nervous, it is my turn to take the pride home for my country. But more importantly, I’m truly excited and honored that I was the chosen one to represent China on this historic card. Pressure? Sure, but that’s what keeps me going every day.”
Although JingNan is looking to remain her country’s top trendsetter, Lee is in a rather unique position herself for this rematch.
Following her first career defeat, the Singaporean would take another fight in the meantime. This one also took place at strawweight rather than her usual home of atomweight’s 115-pounds.
In July, Michelle Niccolini would hand Lee yet another loss. The “Unstoppable” now rides a two-fight losing streak going into a fight with her prized possession on the line. And because of that, it could just make her even more dangerous.
“Like I said many times, Lee is a well-rounded athlete,” JingNan explained. “Her being born into a martial arts family and her father being her head coach does make a difference. I think what I learned from her last time wouldn’t matter much this time. As a professional athlete, we learn to evolve every day. I look forward to being in the cage with the evolved version of Lee again!
“Both of her losses are at strawweight, a weight class that’s not natural to her own, she’s still undefeated in atomweight. If I were in her position, it’s only going to give me more of a desire to win this time.”
While JingNan looks to capture her second divisional title, she actually won’t be the only champion dropping down in weight aspiring to do the same thing.
Part II of ONE: Century is headlined by another champion vs champion matchup. This one featuring the heavyweight king, Brandon Vera, as he hopes to obtain Aung La N Sang’s light heavyweight crown. The defending champion of that matchup in N Sang happens to already be a double champ as he currently holds the ONE middleweight strap as well.
As much of a savage striker in the cage or ring that the 31-year old “Panda” may be , outside of it, she’s a fan and regular person just like everyone else. So as invested as she is in her own champ vs champ clash, she’ll have her eyes on the other too.
“Every athlete chosen for these two cards are phenomenal,” JingNan said. “Each of them has put in huge amounts of work to be where they are. Personally, I really look forward to watch N Sang vs. Brandon Vera. I have the utmost respect for both of them and I think what they have achieved in their own weight classes are very impressive. I think it’d be a great one to watch on the competition side!”
In the burgeoning Chinese MMA scene, Xiong JingNan has been the first to accomplish several groundbreaking achievements. Another win over Angela Lee at ONE: Century would just create a welcome addition to her ever-expanding list.
And no matter the outcome, she will still be a champion after this weekend. Despite that quite literally being true, the strong support of her country will always be there treating her as such… shiny gold belt included or not.
“Of course I would love to defend my belt in my own country [next],” JingNan expressed. “All the cheering makes a huge difference. We have the most population in the world, we have some of the best stadiums and we shall see more global promotions like ONE.”
Facebook: Jingnan Xiong
Drake Riggs is an MMA writer based out of Brush Prairie, Washington, USA who specializes in feature pieces, the women's fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake has most notably written for BJPenn.com, FanSided, The Body Lock, South China Morning Post, MyMMANews, Cageside Press, Sherdog, The Scrap, and MMA Today. He has also written for and created video content for RT Sport. As for other sports, Drake is a longtime fan of the NFL's Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @DrakeRiggs_ . Also check out all of his video content on YouTube at: "Drake Riggs" where he uploads fighter interviews, podshows, and various other types of content.