A Canadian on The Ultimate Fighter China: Episode 1 & 2 Thoughts
First of all, I would like to thank everyone for reading this column. I spent six weeks in China filming the first ever TUF and it is without a doubt, one of the greatest experiences of my life. I apologize for starting these recaps a couple weeks late but will try to fill you guys in with all the behind-the-scenes gossip.
The first episode is basically a long introduction of the fighters, coaches, and the sport of MMA.
On the bus ride to the training centre, it becomes evident that most of these fighters know one another since the Chinese MMA scene is not very big yet. Many are from Beijing, a few others are fellow teammates at the Xi’an Sports University. Since my Mandarin is not very good, I quickly become friends with Allen Chong (Malaysia), Rocky Lee (Taiwan) and Shih Liang (USA) – all whom speak English.
When we get to the training centre, we are introduced to Cung Le, who basically serves as the “Dana White” of the show. Then we were introduced to the coaches Tiequan Zhang (first Chinese UFC fighter) and Ao Hailin, a Chinese MMA pioneer. Interestingly enough, they will not fight each other since Ao Hailin is over 200 pounds and essentially retired.
We then had to do the typical UFC workout test to determine team selections. Four stations including: wall wrestling, grappling, hitting the bag, and conditioning were conducted. I did pretty well as I felt my wrestling and grappling was definitely superior to the other guys that I was paired up with. After this was done, we were given a quick break before being asked to a do a three minute MMA round. I was paired up with Anying Wang – national Sanda champion and 5th at nationals for Muay Thai. Although I felt his stand up was perhaps a little better than mine, I landed a few shots of my own before taking him down and controlling him on the ground.
I studied everyone in my weight class and felt that most of them were strikers except for Li Jinying – a yoga instructor with no fights that was only selected because he was a native of Shenyang, where the show was being broadcasted. Watching him was incredibly painful as it looked as if he had never sparred a day in his life. Luckily for him, the other guy took it really easy on him.
We took a one hour break before the coaches made their team picks. It seemed as though the coaches had an idea who they wanted before the workout began. Ao Hailin got first pick and chose the guys with the most experience, Yang Jianping at Featherweight and Wang Sai at Welterweight. Allen Chong was hyping up Hailin’s BJJ coach Marcos “Sharpei” Machado so I was hoping to be selected onto his team. To my dismay, I was picked by Tiequan. It didn’t help that all the other English speaking fighters were on the other team. This was going to be really interesting for me…
This episode was a lot more exciting and eventful than the last one. The first part of the show focuses on Li Jinying, the yoga instructor. He’s actually a really nice guy, but doing it for the wrong reasons. When I met him in the hotel prior to filming, he was telling me that he was looking at TUF as an avenue to get rich and famous. It was kind of insulting that an outsider with no experience would try to use our industry as a claim to fame. I didn’t feel bad when the coaches beat him up a bit. If he wanted to stay, he had to know what he was getting himself into. Luckily for his and our team’s sake, he made the right decision and left. He most likely would have ended up in the hospital and our team would have lost our fight pick.
When it came to our fight pick, we put our #1 Welterweight pick, Zhang LiPeng against their #3 choice Zhu Qingxiang. LiPeng is an experienced, well-rounded fighter that is much better than his record would indicate. Qingxiang on the other was a provincial wrestling champion with little striking or grappling. At the weigh-in staredowns, Qingxiang shoved Lipeng claiming that he was uncomfortable during the face off. Lipeng later told me that he suspects it was coach Hailin that probably told him to do it. Apparently Lipeng was a former student of Ao Hailin. The drama was just too confusing for me at this point…
Obviously Lipeng rested after the weigh-ins in preparation for his fight the next day. However, Ao Hailin’s yellow team did a strength and conditioning workout with Qingxiang participating. Although it was never aired, Qingxiang was going so hard that Cung Le had to step in and tell him to stop. It was the first of many signs of the outdated training methodologies used in Chinese MMA. When our team heard about this, it did nothing but boost our confidence.
The actual fight was more intense than the television. It was a back and forth scramble with Qingxiang landing a beautiful takedown and hip throw. However, it was evident that experience played a big factor in this fight. Qingxiang used too much energy and was swept before being finished via punches from the back. It was a very entertaining fight that was perfect for the first introductory fight of TUF China.