Xiong Jingnan is ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion.
Xiong Jingnan is a mixed martial athlete. She is part of a generation of fighters who are well versed in every single area of martial arts, not just specializing in one area. She is the inaugural and reigning ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion. She is also the first-ever Chinese World Champion in mixed martial arts history. She originally trained to embark on a weightlifting career but discovered boxing instead. Xiong made her professional MMA debut in 2014. She fought primarily in Kunlun Fight and amassed a record of 10-1 before signing with ONE Championship. She made her debut in 2017 at ONE Championship: Warriors of the World. That led her to a shot at the inaugural ONE Women’s Strawweight World Championship. She has since definitively defended the belt several times, including handing ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion her first-ever loss.
When and where does your passion for martial arts come from? What attracted and inspired you? Why did you choose this discipline?
I am born for sports. I was training weightlifting before I turned into a professional boxer. All this time, I was looking for a kind sport that allows more freedom and combines both striking and grappling. Then I got the chance to get to know mixed martial arts, I fell in love immediately, this is the exact sport I was looking for all these years.
Did your family support you when they knew you wanted to start a career as a professional athlete in martial arts?
I left my family to become an athlete when I was at a fairly young age, so I am used to making decisions for myself. My parents have always been supportive of my decisions, as long as I am happy and healthy. I did not tell them about the switch from boxing to MMA until I made some fame that one day someone from the county has seen me on press and told them about it. They were worried at first, as all parents would for their children, but was supportive, nonetheless. I am very grateful to my parents for they always tell me to chase my dream and not to give up.
Xiong Jing Nan, which nickname is The Panda, shares her sacrifices inspiring a generation of young women to take up mixed martial arts.
How did you start your professional career at ONE Championship as an MMA fighter?
I have always known ONE and am very agreeable with the values the organization carries. I was with a local organization when the opportunity came up to compete on a global stage at ONE. I had to take it because it has been a lifelong dream to represent my country and to mark China on the map of MMA.
Can you tell us something about the challenges and sacrifices that you experienced for pursuing your career in MMA?
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There are too many sacrifices I have made thus far, and it is hard to measure which one is greater. But I would say among all, the time away from my family is one of the hardest to swallow. To many of your knowledge, the family is valued greatly in Chinese culture and the fact that I missed the chance to see my grandparents for the last time because of a match will still bring tears to my eyes when I think about it today.
Mixed martial arts (MMA), is a full-contact combat sport that allows striking and grappling, both standing and on the ground, using techniques from various combat sports and martial arts.
What does it mean for you to be an athlete of MMA? What is the biggest lesson you have learned from it? What do you love most about it?
It means the world that I carry my country’s name on my shoulder. It’s been a great honor for me to have gained the first MMA world title for my country, so more people know about Chinese power and the ability of Chinese athletes in this field. It is a tough game, but if you have the chance to watch my first counter with Lee then you’d understand why MMA is a game that without holding your breath to the last second, you won’t know how it’d turn out to be. Never give up because though it seems impossible, impossible is nothing!
You are the inaugural and reigning ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion. How does it feel to achieve that feat? Are you living your dream?
Like I said before, it is an honor to represent China on the global stage and make people aware of the capability of Chinese athletes. I am certainly living my dream and am very proud to be the first one to bring gold to my country on MMA. But I wouldn’t say this is the end, I believe one must challenge herself all the time in order to grow out of it. I don’t know where it will end and I certainly don’t want to set a limit to it. I just want to keep pushing myself and see how far I can go.
As a child, I used to tell my grandparents, “When I grow up, I’ll be successful and have the money to buy you great food and anything you want.” I always remember my promise to them. Now I have the ability to give them a better life, but they have passed away. My heartache and guilt are not easy for everyone to understand. To my grandparents in heaven, I did it. That’s why I cried out to my grandparents after getting the World Title. I had held onto the guilt and emotional burden for too long. I just let it all out. I was such a relief. I felt so much better after that.” – Xiong Jing Nan
What is the most difficult part of the fight for you? How do you overcome it?
Training camp is a battle of its own I’d say. Of which weight cutting is a fairly challenging process. Low-calorie diet plus high-intensive training every day is not for everyone. With the change of diet and training schedule, surely it comes with mood swings and physical bottleneck phases. You can’t be feeling 100% every day, sometimes you just have to deal with a bad training day or a bad mood day and just go along with it. It’s all part of the journey. It’s kind of embarrassing to mention but my way to motivate myself is to pet talk myself every morning in the mirror and I find it quite helpful to keep me going.
Can you share with us any meaningful story or moment from the backstage before a fight?
Every athlete is different before the event in the backstage. Some would train extensively on the key positions so they could warm their muscles up. Some would try to passion themselves up and I always put on my headset and try to cancel the noises outside and find my inner peace. It helps me to stay more focused on the competition later on.
All athletes sacrifice a lot to reach their dreams. I gave my best days to martial arts. I put all my time into practice, learning and constantly traveling abroad. I’m indebted to my parents because I am not always there for them. I haven’t been around to care for them. Then there are my friends. When they get together, I don’t have the time to meet them. Often when they gather I have training. When they call me, I’m in the middle of training. Or, when everyone made the time to meet, I’m preparing or a bout. Then there is me. I want to apologize to myself. I often get injured during practice and don’t take enough care of my body. Despite going through good and bad times, I’m proud of staying true to myself. I’m proud of not giving up and always persevering.” – Xiong Jing Nan
Do you think that martial arts can help to overcome gender bias and inequality?
Absolutely. I’m often asked why I did, as a girl, choose such a tough, male-dominated practice as my career. And my answer is always the same, why shall I limit myself to my gender only? Before my first match with Lee, people put so much effort into my appearance and commented to me not being feminine enough. And literally after the match, more and more commented and talked about how inspiring it is to them that I held on to the last second and did not give up and turned the match around. I wouldn’t say there are no more comments about my appearance anymore, but I’d say that people started to pay more attention to my actual competition ability. Just like gender inequality, there’s a long way to it and it won’t change overnight. But if I have a voice and can demonstrate my story to help it improve, I will and so I shall.
Do you have anything else would you like to share or do you have inspiring and empowering advice?
I wanted to share with you my story in Tokyo on March 31st, 2019, the match I talked about in the last question. I was defending my belt against the atomweight world Champion, Angela Lee. She was undefeated and on a 9-winning-streak. There were quite a few “back and forths” in the first 3 rounds but I wasn’t gaining the upper hand. In the fourth round, with her 10+ years of sophisticated grappling experience, she first got a triangle then a belly-down armbar on me.
Anyone who has the basic knowledge of grappling game knows what it means, I’m double dead. I thought about the worst outcomes, either I got choked to sleep, I got my arm broken or I lost the belt. Among the three options, I found the most unendurable to be the latter. So I tried to adjust the position and waited it out. I gave an okay sign to the ref so he wouldn’t stop the match to protect me, and one to my team as I could feel they were worried sick about me. I didn’t think it was possible, but I had to try. Miraculously I survived! When I made it out to the fifth round, I knew the victory was mine. I’m telling the story to make a point that sometimes, though all the challenges and difficulties, success is just one step away. If you hold on to it, you might lose anyways but if you give up, you’ll always be the one who’s one step away from success.
Photos courtesy of Xiong Jingnan, ONE Championship
A special thanks to Tiffany Tseng
CHINA-UNDERGROUND. Ciao! My name is Dominique. I’m Italian and I’m proud to be a mix. My father was an Italian chemical engineer and high school teacher, with Greek and Polish heritage. My mother is Haitian, she was high school language teacher, with Dominican, Spanish, French, Portuguese, African and Native American heritage. Being a mix makes me appreciate to want to understand different cultures and lifestyles. I grew up in Italy, lived few years in Haiti, travel around main European capitals, lived seven years in China, six in Spain and UK. Traveling makes me feel that we can learn something from every situation in every part of the world.