UFC Fight Night 132: Cowboy vs Edwards takes place on 23 June at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. As with most UFC cards held in Asia, a large part of the card features Asia-Pacific fighters. There are two who come from China Top Team (CTT), one of the most established MMA gyms in Asia. They are “The Leech” Li Jingliang and Yan Xiaonan.
On the night before the event, Li and Yan – and almost 20 friends, family and teammates who traveled with them – gathered for dinner over steaming pots of chili mutton soup. Of course both of their main trainers were with them: CTT’s captain Zhang Tiequan, the first Chinese fighter in the WEC and UFC, and BJJ Coach Ruy Menezes, whose nearly 10-year tenure has elevated grappling in so much of China’s MMA.
Currently, Li is considered the highest ranked Chinese fighter in the world. His teammate Xiaonan holds the commendable honor of being the first female fighter from China in the UFC. With everyone gobbling up mutton, clams, noodles, and countless other Chinese dishes, they discussed Li and Yan, the state of MMA and BJJ in China, and what the future holds.
On having two fighters from the team in UFC Singapore:
Zhang: I’m very happy. CTT is growing bigger and bigger.
Ruy: It was a perfect camp. They both feel so great right now. So they have no excuse.
On pride for helping MMA in China develop:
Ruy: Sure, sure, I feel it. MMA in China is not too big, but it’s improved a lot since a couple of years ago. There are more gyms, and more coaches coming to work. That’s so good for China.
Zhang: We have to focus on it, have passion for it, keep doing it. And never give up.
On the BJJ level in China now:
Ruy: Now in China, there are around 55 jiujitsu black belts, Chinese and from outside. There’s more competition. Now the Chinese who train understand hat they need to go to training more, and compete more. I think the new generation understands this now. Better than the last one.
On Li Jingliang’s BJJ:
Ruy: He doesn’t like to train jiujitsu so much, nobody knows that. He prefers perfecting his striking. For example, he’s a brown belt since 2015. That’s 3 years he’s still a brown belt. If he doesn’t do too much, I don’t give him the black belt. I told him, me giving you the black belt doesn’t depend on you winning the UFC. So I think he needs to prove his jiujitsu style more, and his skill.
On Yan Xiaonan’s BJJ:
Ruy: Yan Xiaonan is a white belt, but she’s improved a lot in the last three months. I give more attention to her, and give her private classes. She’s more confident. Tomorrow, if the fight goes to the ground, I think she will do better. She feels more confident in wrestling and jiujitsu. Of course she’s a striker, but she is focusing on wrestling and jiujitsu.
On Zhang Tiequan returning to fighting:
Ruy: No way. He’s almost 90 kilos. [laughs]
Zhang: I’m working on my weight now. I want to cut to 80, and then I can fight. Welterweight in November? Possibly, yes.
Ruy: One day we were talking about what we eat for breakfast. I said eggs, bacon, sometimes oatmeal. He said he eats “potato friends.” I had to look it up. And sure enough, it means sweet potatoes.
At this moment, Tiequan ladles a huge portion of potatoes from the broth onto Ruy’s plate.
Ruy: Hey, why so much?
Zhang: Your a friend of potatoes.
On CTT students in the UFC in 5 years time:
Ruy: Yes, that’s the plan. In my opinion, the UFC is important, it’s the biggest show in the world, but always when I talk to CTT, I keep the focus on Road FC, One Championship, the Asian events. That’s important for Asian MMA. UFC is American. One Championship is Asian. Road FC is Asian. That’s what I prefer.
Zhang: We have some very good kids now growing up. Maybe in about 2 years they can start fighting in the big leagues. Right now, we already have the next UFC fighter. He’s just not here with us today. Amu (Rigirigala). I think it’s a possibility.
Predictions for UFC Singapore:
Ruy: Both will win. Jingliang by KO, Xiaonan by decision. Maybe she can get a submission. I hope so. [laughs] I really want to give the blue belt to her because she works a lot, and she’s very humble. If they lose, they have no excuse. No excuses.
Zhang: Jingliang – submission. Xiaonan – KO. Round one.