Culture | China rising: Meet two fighters leading the MMA charge
Ma jiawen's right fist connects with the face of Jimmy “The Silencer” Yabo. Photo: ONE Championship
Ma jiawen's right fist connects with the face of Jimmy “The Silencer” Yabo. Photo: ONE Championship

China rising: Meet two fighters leading the MMA charge

A pair of Tianjin natives are showing they have the guts and driving ambition to make it big in the mixed martial arts cage

December 15, 2016 6:39 PM (UTC+8)

Big things are expected from these Chinese fighters as mixed martial arts continues to spread across the country, with local and American players lining up to tap the estimated potential earnings of up to US$724 billion by 2025. 

Ma Jiawen

Age: 20
Fights out of: Tianjin K1 Club
Fights in: ONE Championship featherweight division (145lbs)
Record: 3-2

The Tianjin native is fast turning into a human highlight reel. Even at such an early stage of his MMA career – five fights overall for a record of three wins and two losses – the 20-year-old is building a reputation as a fighter with a knack for the spectacular.

Ma Jiawen is declared the winner of this bout. Photo: ONE Championship
Ma Jiawen is declared the winner against Jimmy Yabo. Photo: ONE Championship

Consider the elbows that brought the challenge of the Philippines’ Jimmy “The Silencer” Yabo to an end at ONE Championship 45 in the third round. Ma’s explosive power has been turning heads already – and he promises there’s more to come.

“I think MMA is very masculine, just like my personality,” Ma said in an interview. “The chance to be a champion drives me all the way here. I am a very easy-going person outside the cage, so a lot of people can’t tell I am an MMA athlete, but when I walk into the cage I change into another person. I am a very tough man inside the cage. MMA sharpens my will and makes me more tenacious.”

Ma made his ONE Championship promotional and professional MMA debut in 2015, competing in the Guangzhou Featherweight Tournament.

Read: MMA enters the dragon

“The sports industry is developing very fast in China,” he says. “More and more people are getting to know it and getting into it and not only the men, but also a lot of women are becoming MMA fans. I think my strength is that I keep a very clear mind inside the cage. I can always be calm and follow the strategy we set before the fight.”

And his goals for the year ahead? Simple.
“I hope I can win every single fight,” Ma says.

 

Photo: ONE Championship
Li Kaiwen (in pink shorts) makes a connection.  Photo: ONE Championship

Li Kaiwen

Age: 21
Fights out of: Tianjin K1 Club
Fights in: ONE Championship featherweight division (145lbs)
Record: 6-3

Power is what Li Kaiwen is all about. Another fighter to emerge from the Tianjin MMA community, the 21-year-old has bludgeoned his way to a 5-1 record in the ONE Championship (6-3 overall in MMA) with his heavy hands.

“I used to train in wrestling, which I think is the most important skill in MMA,” says Li. “I think the man in the cage is a true man. Every time I get into the cage and have my arms raised after I win, it encourages me to keep going. I think I am an all-rounder. If I have any weaknesses, I will train hard to master them and then turn them into one of my strengths.”

Watch: Manny Pacquiao buys stake in ONE FC 

Among Li’s list of achievements include winning the Beijing Featherweight Tournament at ONE: Dynasty of Champions (2014) as well as outpointing Malaysia’s rising star Keanu Subba in his most recent bout back in July.

“I am a shy boy away from the the cage, but I am an aggressive and hungry man inside the cage,” says Li. “Actually MMA has been shaping my personality a lot. I have learned the importance of humility and gratitude after I started MMA.

“My short-term goal now is to be the first Chinese featherweight champion. I don’t care who the champion is – he’s just taking care of my belt and I will get it one day. My long-term aim is to get as many ONE Championship belts as possible after getting the featherweight champion.”

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