As Asia's largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion made inroads into China at ONE: DYNASTY OF CHAMPIONS last December, there was a 18-year-old fighter by the name of Li Wei Bin who made a name for himself in the ring.
The fresh-faced teenager produced impeccable performances throughout the night to walk away with the inaugural Beijing Flyweight Tournament Championship title.
What's even more remarkable about his victory is that Li was not only the youngest fighter of the night, but also went up against a regional kickboxing champion and Xi'an Judo champion.
More than just striking
With a base in Muay Thai and Sanda, it is no wonder Li is touted as a striking specialist despite his tender age.
Furthermore, Li currently trains under the wing of Sanda legend Zheng Yuhao.
"I could not have won this tournament with my coach. He was with me every day throughout the camp and arranged all of my trainings. He supervised everything and pushed me hard when I needed it most," Li commented, with much gratefulness.
However to succeed on the global MMA stage, a fighter can no longer just specialise in a specific martial art, but has to be well rounded in all areas of MMA.
Li and his team clearly understood the importance of being a versatile fighter in the lead up to his ONE Championship debut, working diligently on both his strengths and weaknesses.
"In the mornings, we spent drilling Muay Thai - bag work, pads and sparring. In the afternoons, we spent on drills, ground fighting and weights. Then in the evenings, we worked on problems we thought might come up during the tournament," Li added.
Besides focusing on his own skill set, Li and his team were well aware of each of his opponent's capabilities.
During his semi-final bout against Hao Yi Jie, Li was in a disadvantageous position when Hao attempted a Guillotine Choke.
However, the fighter from Chongqing was able to reverse his fortune, and gained mount instead.
He subsequently forced Hao into an armbar, giving Hao no choice but to tap out in the very first round.
"I know Hao is a good striker, so I looked for the takedown and brought him out of his element, successfully submitting him," Li commented.
Standing back up
As the famous saying by Vince Lombardi goes, "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up."
The odds were not in Li's favour during his Beijing Flyweight Tournament final matchup against compatriot Wang Wei.
Although Wang was making his professional MMA debut, the 29-year-old has over 20 years of experience practicing various martial arts.
Not to mention, Wang also trains under renowned MMA fighter and coach Vaughn Anderson at Xian Sports University.
Despite starting off strongly, Li was knocked off his feet towards the end of the first round.
Instead of letting the fight end right there and then, Li stood back up and came back stronger in the subsequent rounds to take the win via a unanimous decision.
"I thought: 'Get back on your feet as soon as possible.' On the ground, my chances of winning were smaller. I remember that punch was super heavy and it did rock me a little," the Beijing Flyweight Champion remarked.
"I knew Wang is a decent ground fighter, so I fought to keep him standing. In the end, it all worked out in my favour," he added, with a hint of satisfaction in his voice.
It was only a matter of time before Asia's largest MMA promotion made its way to the birthplace of the legendary Bruce Lee.
With ONE's entry into the Chinese market, local fight fans are able to witness the very best homegrown and international fighters battle it out and leave everything in the cage.
Furthermore, MMA fans worldwide experience the opportunity to witness top rising Chinese talents, such as Li, rise through the ONE ranks.
With Sanda and San Shou's popularity in China, one would think that local martial arts fans would take preference in watching or following these forms rather than to switch to MMA.
Li thinks otherwise though, especially with ONE's unique global MMA rule set, which blends a combination of best practices from Asian and non-Asian rules.
"Through ONE, more of China's traditional martial arts enthusiasts will understand what MMA is and follow it. ONE's rules are exciting and fans here already love it!" Li declared, full of enthusiasm.
Following his title win, Li is looking forward to his bright future in the MMA world and hopes his fans will stick around to watch what he'll bring to ONE.
"My goal right now is to become the best flyweight from China in ONE. I'm going to bring everything I have to the cage and always put on a hell of a show!"