Zhang TieQuan is set to make his fourth visit to the UFC Octagon on November 10th, but this time is different: Zhang will finally return to fight in front of his countrymen in Macao, China as the co-main event for UFC FUEL TV 6. “The Mongolian Wolf” rose to unbeaten prominence in the premier Chinese MMA promotion Art Of War during the mid-2000s, then kept his record untarnished through the Philippines’ URCC and Hong Kong’s Legend FC. His 13-0 record got him the attention of the WEC in the US, and in a merger with the UFC, eded up with the prominence of being the first Chinese fighter to enter the Octagon.
Zhang initiated the introduction of literally millions of Chinese to the sport of MMA when the video of his 48 second chokehold win over Jason Reinhardt went viral. The topic was so hot that it made the sensationalist website ChinaSmack, which picks up the current top Chinese internet issues being discussed and translates them into English. This was within a short time of the UFC getting a Chinese language website started and local broadcasts of the promotion, and has finally culminated with the first UFC event to be held on Chinese soil.
As the UFC ramps up its efforts in the Austral-Asia market, Zhang has been featured on cards in Australia, Japan, and now his home country of China. He knows the difficulties he’s faced at the apex of the sport, and he knows that even a rookie opponent like Jon Tuck is not to be taken lightly. But if any fighter can stay solid and prevail through the pressure of holding a nation on his shoulders, it is Zhang. As a rock of support at China’s elite China Top Team since the beginning, and having become a national hero for his pioneering in the sport at an international level, he is a calm and respectful ambassador for MMA in China. Prior to his homecoming, we had the opportunity to speak with him.
Tell us what sports you played before you started training Sanda at Xian Sports University?
I was born in Inner-Mongolia and I trained Greco-Roman wrestling.
You are the first and only Chinese fighter in the UFC, how does the pressure help you, or how does it make fighting more difficult?
There is definitely pressure, but I will do everything I can to ignore this pressure, relax as best as I can, and prepare for war whether or not it’s a title fight.
You have fought a few different weight classes. Why are you fighting at lightweight now?
This weight class is more suitable for me. Cutting to 145 pounds makes it too difficult to perform at my best for myself and for the fans. At that weight I can’t reach my potential in the cage. I hope to perform the best I possibly can for the fans I love and myself also.
Now you have met and fought foreign fighters, what is the biggest difference between Chinese fighters and fighters from other countries?
Ha ha! They look way different! I’m kidding. Compared to Chinese fighters, foreign fighters have a more comprehensive grasp of the concept of MMA. They pick up details and have better access to new techniques. Because there is less exposure to MMA in China it’s harder for Chinese fighters to keep up with new techniques. Chinese fighters are more likely to master the certain techniques they have access to learning.
What are the best and worst things of being a fighter?
This is my profession, I love this sport! The best part is that us fighter’s hard work helps the public to better understand MMA. I don’t think there is a bad part. Maybe in the eyes of ordinary people injuries are the negative element, but they are usually minor – this is just the cost of promoting MMA. For me it’s worth it.
There are now many MMA teams in China, what makes China Top Team so successful?
The team’s mindset. All CTT fighters share the same belief.
Many fighters have pre-fight rituals; tell us what special things you do before you fight.
Honestly, I am not so good and these kind of things. I think if I prepare well for my fights then I’ll be able to unleash my true power in the cage. This, to me, is the best way to prepare for a fight.
Who introduced you to MMA and how did you become the best Chinese MMA fighter?
Andy Pi did. It was in 2005, Brother Andy brought me in first contact with MMA. I just fell in love with the sport then and never stopped training hard. In fact, if a lot of guys stayed dedicated to the sport they would have gotten even farther than I have. I’ve just done things the way an MMA fighter is supposed to do things, and perseverance has gotten me this far.
This will be your first UFC fight in China, your home country. How will this be different from your previous UFC fights?
This being the first UFC held in China means Chinese people are getting more and more into MMA, I’m excited! I hope this leads to lots of tough Chinese fighters getting UFC contracts. I also hope I can perform better than ever. For once, I won’t have jetlag! Cutting weight with jetlag really sucks!
John Tuck is coming in as a rookie in the UFC. Do you feel you need to show him what a UFC-level fighter is like?
Definitely, definitely! It’s not a problem. A lot of my good friends will be there. It’s exciting.
What is the best way to fight Jon Tuck?
I need to be ready for everything, fight with all my heart and feed off the support of my fans. Because I am fighting at home this time, I’m sure I will come through in the end with my best performance ever for the hometown audience. I hope you all come out and support me!
How will you prepare for this fight? Will you do your whole camp with CTT?
I will stay with CTT and train with many guys, Li JingLiang, [Yao] HongGang, Amu [Rijigigele], Wu HaoTian. I will prepare just as I do for my other fights – nothing special this time. Jon Tuck is a good fighter, but he is just another one of my opponents. How will I prepare? I will relentlessly prepare for war…
How do you think this fight will go?
I haven’t thought about it. I can say though, the split second I see a chance in the fight I’m gonna take it.
You recently spent time training in the US, did that training help you and how?
I learned so much. There were things that I’ve never come across before. The people around me, the athletes around me were so high quality, the trainers as well. The coaches were very tough, especially the guy with the big beard!
Tell us what your weekly training is like.
I train ground in the mornings and striking in the afternoons. I do strength training twice a week also. Despite whatever obstacles I face, I always stick to my plan and am ready to bring it.
What do you hope to be remembered for when you retire from fighting?
It hasn’t entered my mind yet. I think I still have 3 to 5 years before I stop fighting. I feel Chinese MMA still needs me and our team at CTT.
What will you do after you retire from fighting?
I might get into coaching, might train more tough MMA fighters. Regardless of whether I can fight or not, I will always do everything I can to promote MMA.