Li “The Leech” Jingliang (18-7; 10-5 in the UFC) is currently ranked 14th in the welterweight division. His opponent, Muslim “King of Kung Fu” Salikhov (18-2; 5-1) in the UFC), is sitting just outside the rankings, albeit he is on a five-fight win streak.
Jingliang has faced adversity throughout his impressive 15-fight UFC tenure, but his fan-friendly, power-punch style, accompanied by having legitimate skills everywhere, justifies his current standing in the deepening welterweight division.
Meanwhile, Salikhov is perhaps less touted as having electrifying fights, but his background as a renowned Sanda fighter – he is one of only two non-Chinese athletes to have won the Wushu Sanda (Chinese Kickboxing) King’s Cup – rationalizes he has the fight-arsenal to make for a highly entertaining fight between him and the Leech.
The unranked Muslim Salikhov is coming in at a -180 favorite over the higher-ranked Li Jingliang.
Li Jingliang is an interesting case study. On one end, Jingliang didn’t land a single strike in his loss to Chimaev; on the other end, Jingliang finished the extremely dangerous Santiago Ponzinibbio inside of the first round. Because he has two extreme data points over his last two most recent fights, I believe it is wise to identify the mean relative to who he is as a fighter when projecting future bout performances.
While the external variables should be mostly removed from the equation, the core essence of who Jingliang is as a fighter is indeed inherently inconsistent. When he has confidence and is in a flow-state by letting his hands fly free, he has impressive power with an ability to close distance quickly. Having the skill-set to cut the distance and land a powerful right hand is enough to make him a dangerous opponent to stand against; but, when you add the fact he is a confident range striker given it allows him to throw quick kicks to the calf and a straight down the barrel jab, the Leech can be a significant problem on the feet.
Additionally, to being a strong striker when fighting his best fight, Jingliang will mix in a takedown if the opportunity arises – averages 1.25 attempts over a 3-round fight. Although the historical accuracy sits at 39%, his natural strength and positional awareness do make him an effective wrestler against opponents who lack comfort in negating deep shots and/or clinch-wrestling attempts.
The biggest issue Jingliang faces, and one I have repeatedly alluded to, is the fact he does not always fight to the degree to which he is capable. I am unaware if the reasoning boils down to lack of confidence, poor fight IQ, or a combination of both, but the inconsistencies he has put forth in the octagon justifies believing there is something missing in his fight preparation and one that has proved to result in him losing fights he is capable of winning.
While Jingliang is inconsistent but talented, Salikhov is a fighter who seemingly knows how to get his hand raised at the end of the night. The way in which he wins may not always be the most exciting, but a five-fight win streak justifies him getting a crack at the rankings and beginning his climb up the welterweight division.
The skill-set of Salikhov is rooted in pressure-forward kickboxing. Moreover, he throws punches and kicks alike with the intent of landing cleanly contrary to throwing with all-out power. The benefit of doing so is having a positive strike differential of him landing nearly a full significant strike per minute greater than his opponent. Continually, he maintains a strong 68% striking defense, illustrating he is equally cognitive of what his opponent is attempting to do compared to what he desires to do in the octagon.
Similarly to Jingliang, Salikhov has shown a willingness to mix in a takedown attempt when the opportunity arises; and further similar to the Leech, Salikhov does so to expand the probability of winning a round coupled with making his opponent think about a shot in the future, which opens up windows for his strikes to land. In total, Salikhov is a solid fighter that can win fights but lacks the electrifying skills to get me, and others, excited about his potential ceiling.
While Salikhov understands how to win fights and Jingliang has repeatedly shown inconsistencies in his performances, I do believe this is a tremendous “buy-low” spot on Jingliang. Jingliang has the greater fight-ending capability on the feet, and I contend he will be the better offensive wrestler, albeit his wrestling defense is nothing to write home about. Given both fighters predominately strike and neither are tremendous wrestlers, I do believe the fight should stay standing; if done, the Leech has the speed-power advantage to land first and greatly damage Salikhov.
Bet: Li Jingliang to win (+140 odds at MyBookie), sprinkle Jingliang by Rd1 KO