Way of the Warrior is an ongoing series exploring the growth of MMA in China from a variety of unique perspectives. We’ll introduce the sport’s rising talents, burgeoning fanbase, and cultural ties to China.
ONE Championship was founded in 2011 and has since established itself as Asia’s preeminent fighting organization. The Singapore-based media empire is now the largest sports media company on the continent, drawing elite fighters from countries throughout Asia and across the globe.
It seems like China’s mixed martial arts talent pool is growing every year, and unsurprisingly, many find themselves competing in ONE Championship. Although, the coveted champion title has been claimed by only one Chinese national so far: reigning ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion Xiong Jingnan.
But Xiong is far from the only Chinese competitor with championship potential: 22 athletes from China are fighting in ONE’s MMA league, and another six are competing in muay Thai and kickboxing.
And while we believe every one of China’s ONE Championship fighters deserves the attention of combat aficionados worldwide, we’ve narrowed the list to 10 athletes that you should watch for in the months and years ahead.
Known affectionately as the ‘King Kong Warrior,’ Fan Rong is the only Chinese fighter represented in ONE Championship’s three heaviest weight classes.
The 28-year-old middleweight hails from Jinzhou, Liaoning province in Northeast China, and moved to the city of Harbin to attend university. It was there he met his present-day coach, Jiang Long Yun. Fan was astounded by Jiang’s physical prowess and decided to pursue MMA as a way to see the world beyond the borders of China.
He went on to amass an impressive 12-1 record before joining the ONE Championship roster and has since gone 2-2 in the ring for a total of 14 wins and three losses. His first ONE loss was a technical submission against undefeated Dutch fighter Reiner de Ridder, currently the ONE Light Heavyweight World Champion and ONE Middleweight World Champion.
Fan followed the inaugural defeat with two major victories but lost his latest fight to Russia’s Vitaly Bigdash by guillotine choke in the third round on December 3.
Qiu Jianliang joined China’s National Muay Thai Team in September 2012 and moved to Da Dong Xiang fight club the following year. From 2011 to 2013, he won a respective silver, bronze, and gold at the Chinese Muay Thai Championship, followed by two consecutive Muay Thai World Championship titles in 2013 and 2014.
Around this time, Qiu transitioned to kickboxing, earning the title of Glory of Heroes Featherweight World Champion in 2017. He continued to win seven more fights with the promotion before being sidelined with a ligament injury to his right knee for the entirety of 2020. Qiu used his two-year hiatus to earn a sports marketing degree from Loughborough University in England, before signing with ONE Championship’s kickboxing division in June 2021, riding an 18-bout win streak.
One of China’s most recognizable athletes and the number-one ranked super featherweight kickboxer worldwide, Qiu has not been shy about his goal with the organization: He wants to be the first male ONE Champion from China, joining the ranks of fellow Chinese fighter and reigning One Women’s Strawweight Champion Xiong Jingnan.
The old adage “age is just a number” can only hold so much weight in the world of sports, but if a single Chinese fighter embodies the saying, it is undoubtedly Zhang Lipeng.
The 31-year-old began his professional fighting career in 2009 and has since competed in numerous big-name promotions throughout Asia, including Kunlun Fight, Road FC, Rankin Ultimate Fighting Federation, Legend FC, and China’s premier fighting championship, Art of War. He also fought briefly with the UFC after winning The Ultimate Fighter: China reality series, leaving the organization with one win and two losses that brought his overall record at the time to 9-9-1.
The Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, native went on to become Kunlun Fight’s welterweight champion and has won 22 of his last 25 fights, with two losses and one draw, bringing his record to 31-11-2.
Banma Duoji has already had quite the underdog journey — from poor Tibetan kid to professional fighter. In August 2021, he made his ONE Championship debut with a loss against former ONE Strawweight World Champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke — a Muay Thai legend nearly twice his age.
But don’t let the inaugural defeat stop you from keeping tabs on this rising star because the young southpaw can throw down. He currently holds a 13-2 record with a 100% finish rate.
A product of the controversial Enbo Fight Club in Chengdu, Banma is no stranger to the spotlight. In 2017, he was featured in a VICE documentary on Enbo and starred in the Chinese boxing film The Golden Belt the following year.
At only 22 years old, we can expect to see much more of Banma in the cage.
Hailing from Shaoyang in South China’s Hunan province, Tang Kai discovered martial arts at a sports university, where he began training as a wrestler.
The initial exposure blossomed into a passion for martial arts, leading Tang to broaden his fighting skills. He eventually moved to Shanghai, where he spent one year training with Dragon Warrior Gym before making his professional debut in 2016.
A competent striker with impressive takedown ability and ground-and-pound technique, Tang is currently undefeated in ONE Championship with five victories, and boasts an impressive eight-win streak overall. Prior to his latest win, a first-round TKO against Yoon Chang Min of South Korea, Tang expressed frustration with the pairing, believing he should compete against fighters in the division’s top five.
The latest win brought Tang’s record to 13-2 and positioned him as a contender for the coveted featherweight top five. It’s a prospect the self-proclaimed fastest fighter in his division has been waiting for. But whatever Tang’s career trajectory, he’s definitely one to watch.
One of four Chinese women currently competing in ONE Championship, Meng has dreams of mirroring the career trajectory of fellow Chinese fighter Xiong Jingnan, who became China’s first-ever MMA world champion in 2018.
Meng started training in taekwondo at 13 and later transitioned to sanda (also known as Chinese kickboxing), eventually earning a provincial champion title in the nationally recognized sport. At 18, she started studying at Xi’an Martial Arts University and began competing in subsequent years, leading to her current 17-6 professional record. She’s also one of the few fighters ever to beat UFC champion Zhang Weili — the two faced off back in 2013 in Xuchang, Henan province.
Meng currently holds a 3-1 record with ONE, losing her last fight in September against India’s Ritu Phogat in the Atomweight World Grand Prix Quarterfinal. While the judges rightfully voted unanimously in Phogat’s favor, Meng dominated early on, nearly ending the fight in the first round with an armbar.
Leading up to the contest, she drew the ire of ONE’s current atomweight champion, Angela Lee, for trash-talking the reigning champ, who Meng believed she would meet in the ring as a championship contender. It’s now on Meng to put her money where her mouth is, and at only 25, another championship run is far from out of the question.
Niu Kang Kang first joined ONE Championship in 2019, the same year of his only two fights with the organization so far. He remains undefeated in ONE, with an overall record of five wins and one loss.
In his ONE Championship 87 premier, Niu landed a vicious left kick to the face of Indonesian competitor Sunoto Peringkat, knocking the veteran fighter out cold only 30 seconds into the first round. Peringkat went down with such force that the referee can be seen practically diving in front of Niu before he delivers a second ground punch.
The fight happened in the first month of 2019, but fans were already rumbling about it being a potential ‘KO of the year’ contender. While the accolade never came to be, it likely won’t be the last time we see the Henan-born flyweight deliver a clobbering in his ONE Championship career.
As a child, Chen Rui liked to watch cartoons like Dragon Ball Z and was a diehard fan of late martial arts icon Bruce Lee, leading to a love of martial arts from a young age.
Known to fans as “The Ghost,” Chen began training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu before transitioning to MMA in 2015, the same year as his professional debut. He won the ONE Jakarta Bantamweight Tournament at ONE: TITLES & TITANS the following year.
The 25-year-old featherweight went a stunning 7-0 before suffering his first defeat at ONE Championship — Master of Destiny in July 2019, and has since racked up two wins and two losses, bringing his record to 9-3.
He may have taken the L in his last two matchups, but both were excellent three-round contests. With over half of his fights ending in a KO or TKO, you’ll want to tune in next time Chen steps in the cage.
Approaching his third year in ONE Championship, Xie Wei already has nine ONE appearances on his resume, with only one loss so far.
Xie was a troublemaker growing up, but found discipline at the famed Shaolin Temple at 14 years old, where he spent four years training with warrior monks.
The 25-year-old flyweight, whose style is characterized by deadly boxing techniques and powerful elbows, made his ONE debut in 2019 with a 2-2 record, having fought in various regional Chinese promotions like Kunlun Fight. He currently holds a 10-3 record, winning eight out of nine fights with ONE — all by way of knockout or technical knockout.
Hu Yong joined ONE Championship’s Hero Series in January 2019 after two consecutive losses and nearly two years since his last fight. He won his inaugural contest unanimously and was undefeated in the Hero Series before moving to ONE’s main roster.
He went on to defeat Yodkaikaew Fairtex in 2021, also by unanimous decision, but Hu remains a humble name in the industry today. In fact, even basic information — like his place of birth — is absent from his MMA profiles.
But we do know that the up-and-comer is Chinese, and with the nickname “Wolf Warrior,” you can bet he’s wearing his national identity as a point of pride.
Hu lost his latest fight against fellow bantamweight fighter Yuya Wakamatsu of Japan on December 3. Still, it was a reasonably even three-round matchup, and it certainly won’t be his last time in the ring.
All images courtesy of ONE Championship
The gym has been a ‘home away from home’ to several big-name UFC fighters, like Song Yadong and Su Mudaerji, as well as One Championship’s Banma Duoji Read More
The strawweight fighter is both a spirited warrior in the Octagon and a healer trained in traditional Chinese medicine. A unique combination, perhaps, but it makes her MMA journey all the more fascinating Read More
You’d be forgiven for assuming that China’s burgeoning MMA fanbase is entirely composed of young men. But you’d be dead wrong Read More