The path which has led Xiong Jing Nan to defend her strawweight title at ONE: ‘A New Era’ on Sunday has been far from straight. She was always destined for sporting greatness, but not necessarily in MMA.

The Chinese fighter will take centre stage on the biggest fight card in ONE Championship history. But she has already turned her back on two successful competitive careers before switching full time to MMA.

Xiong initially enjoyed success as a weightlifter before switching to boxing. She then made the brave decision to abscond from camp with the Chinese national team to pursue her MMA dreams,

“It was a very difficult decision to make,” she recalls.

“In boxing, I received a salary for the training so I didn’t have to worry about anything (because) I got paid just showing up every day. I had to start over again if I switched to mixed martial arts.”

Handsome reward

Her gamble has been rewarded handsomely. She is defending her belt against the most recognizable female fighter in Asia and believes she has what it takes to hand Lee her first career loss,

“I will finish (her) with a KO, the belt is mine,” she said.

Xiong was very upset when Lee pulled out of ONE: ‘Heart of the Lion’ with a back injury. It means this fight has been nearly six months in the making and the champion has had plenty of time to think about her opponent,

“She has an international reputation. I think fans from different countries have heard about her name and her powerful skills (but) I enjoy challenging top fighters, opponents of her level are helpful for my career. They push me to progress and learn quickly because getting better and stronger is my only pursuit,” he said.

Patriotic pride

ONE Championship’s ambition in China burns bright. There are currently cards being held in Beijing every month and Xiong is clearly vital the promotion’s plans there.

She has already represented the country at weightlifting and boxing and Xiong feels a fierce sense of national pride every time she competes on the ONE Championship stage,

“I will prove that Chinese people are capable of high-level sporting glory. I want to tell everyone that they can do the same. My belt is an example and a motivation.”

Xiong believes that Lee’s international profile makes her an underdog going into Sunday’s bout. But it’s a role she is willing to embrace even if she thinks fans see her as being inferior to her opponent,

“I guess right now I am still a vulnerable baby in front of Angela Lee (in the fan’s eyes). This is not a problem for me (because) I know Angela’s strength.”

Keys to victory

Xiong’s key to victory could be her boxing. But she wants to prove that she is a more diverse mixed martial artist than her opponent,

“I know that she is a black belt (in BJJ). In the past, you have seen me as a fighter with good punches and kicks. I don’t like that perception of me because mixed martial arts is a comprehensive sport, I feel like showing more of my ground or wrestling skills which will impress you again.”

Lee has ethnic roots in Singapore and Korea and has lived in Canada and Hawaii. Meanwhile Xiong has spent her whole life in China, even if she spends a lot of time training at Bali MMA these days.

For a title fight on a historical card in an iconic destination like Tokyo no extra motivation would normally be needed. But if Xiong wants it she has to look no further than her homeland,

“Whenever I am talking about China and the national flag, I’m all worked up and thrilled. I get goosebumps, it feels like I want to start fighting right now.”