Zhang Lipeng might be making his ONE Championship debut but he is one of the most experienced lightweights on the roster. The Chinese fighter is a veteran of 43 fights who has already fought for the UFC four times.

At ONE: ‘Battleground’ Part II which is being broadcast next Friday he faces an experienced opponent in Eduard Folayang.

The Filipino is a two time ONE Championship lightweight champion and Zhang believes it is essential he gets his promotional career off to a winning start,

“This debut fight is critical for me because we Chinese like to get off to a flying start,” he said.

Top Tier

Folayang is on a three fight losing streak and is not currently ranked but Zhang still believes he can make a big statement by beating the former champion,

“If I beat the former world champion Folayang in my debut at ONE Championship, it will be my declaration to all the other lightweights that Chinese fighter Zhang Lipeng is coming.”

There are some big name lightweights on the roster with Christian Lee the current champion and Shinya Aoki and Eddie Alvarez among the contenders, even if the latter is not currently ranked. Zhang is looking to make an immediate impact and demonstrate that he belongs with the division’s elite,

“Although the competition between the top five fighters in ONE Championship is fierce, I still feel that with my skills and my experience, I belong in the top tier,” he said.

Prime time

Despite being more experienced than Folayang he is five years younger. Zhang believes that he is in his athletic prime and the opportunity to fight for ONE Championship has come at just the right moment,

“I think now is my prime time, not only in my physical and mental state but in my technique. I am 31 years old now. I think 31 is a golden age in the field of mixed martial arts because this is a man’s strongest time. Your technique, experience, and body are the most mature.”

His UFC career didn’t go entirely according to plan. He won TUF China as a welterweight but was released from the promotion after back to back decision losses.

But after winning 20 fights out of 22 for Kunlun Fight and capturing the welterweight title he thinks this is the perfect time to try competing on the international stage again,

“That’s why I chose to join ONE Championship now. I think it’s very challenging for me, but also a good opportunity. ONE Championship offers a huge international stage, and I want to constantly challenge myself.”

Key point

While Zhang will be making a ONE Championship debut his opponent fought on the inaugural event in 2011 and has been on the roster ever since. The Chinese fighter is very familiar with Folayang and notes that his style has its roots in China,

“I think Folayang is a fighter with excellent stand-up techniques. Because he used to practice wushu sanda, every punch and every kick he throws is hefty. To fight him, I have to be ready at all times,” he said.

Zhang does feel that Folayang’s ground game is not as good as his,

“Folayang’s stand-up skills are very good (but) I think Folayang’s weakness is his ground skill, such as his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is not so outstanding compared with his other skills,” he said.

He is also up front about what the gameplan will be at the Singapore Indoor Stadium,

“Ground skill is one of my strengths, so it may be the crucial point of this match. In his past five (losses), he was submitted by his opponents in three of them. But in four of my last five wins, I submitted my opponents. Therefore, I would say this may be a key point of this match. I might try to take him down to win it.”

Aggressive fighters

He describes himself as an ‘aggressive’ fighter and thinks Folayang has a similar approach,

“I think I’m going to have a great match against Folayang. He always fights aggressively with heavy punches and heavy kicks so it will be an exciting fight and we will give our best to the fans of ONE Championship.”

While the Filipino has already tasted glory and is looking to bounce back after some poor results Zhang is on a good run of form and potentially approaching his peak. He hopes to make a good impression on his debut and believes doing so will put him on tack for a title shot,

“I want to prove myself in ONE through my debut fight and prove my skills and strength. This is the start of my challenge for the ONE lightweight belt.”