Slowly but surely, we are succeeding. A tale as old as time, it remains difficult to replicate in the modern MMA era when it comes to opportunities at the top of the sport. However, some of today’s competitors are still investing in themselves for the long haul rather than allowing the process to be rushed – take Chinese best hope Liang Na as a recent example.
After going through the UFC Academy program at the UFC Shanghai Performance Institute, Liang is very happy to have secured a brand new UFC contract. The “Dragon Girl” dream officially comes true when she debuts on April 24 at UFC 261 in Jacksonville, Fla. – but it could have happened much sooner.
“I thought about being in the UFC then,” Liang told MyMMANews. “When I was younger a few years ago an opportunity arose to sign with the UFC but we turned it down because [my team] worried that I was too young to enter the Octagon.
“When I had the opportunity to sign with the UFC for the first time around 2017-18, I didn’t think I had enough experience or skills to sign with the UFC, so the team refused the ‘offer. But since then, I’ve always tried to motivate myself on whether to re-sign with the UFC.
For the still relatively young 24-year-old Liang, she will enter the biggest MMA promotion in the world with a 15-4 record with all of her wins ending in finish – nine submissions, five KOs / TKOs.
Kicking things off as part of the UFC’s first full-attendance event since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, Liang said any pressure to perform was dampened by the overwhelming excitement. Despite the slow pace of her construction to get to this point, there was still a moment of rush that saw her falter from the start. In the end, that too helped her prepare for this big step.
In December 2017, Liang had what is, so far, her only fight in the United States when she made her Bellator debut against future champion Juliana Velasquez. The Heilongjiang native finished receiving her second career loss by submitting to an armband in the second round.
Especially throughout his career, Liang has competed as a 125-pound flyweight. That was until she decided to switch to the weight of straw in her last two fights and where she will reside in the future.
In many of his clashes like the Velasquez outing, Liang admits to not feeling any height advantage – which his coaches believed to be more prevalent at 115 pounds. Although it’s only two fights at this point, the strength advantage is already being felt for the UFC newcomer and believes he will stick around despite the ultra-competitive nature of the division.
Overall, adjustments have been made and lessons have been learned since Liang last entered a cage on US soil – including help from the Shanghai PI
“The last time around, the experience was kind of a struggle,” Liang said of his only fight in America. “Not because of the jet lag but because of the diet and weight loss. I’m more concerned with my diet and weight loss this time around and how much weight I can gain after the weigh-in.
“You always have to improve your weakness. Because I have a very obvious fighting style, I am such a strong grappler that I always try to improve my weaknesses during training.
“The experience here at the Performance Institute has really helped a lot,” said Liang. “Here in PI you train in a very scientific way and the teams will help you strengthen your weaknesses. It’s because of the last two years of training at UFC Academy that gave me enough confidence to sign with the UFC.
In many cases, physical activity can be great outlets, especially for energetic young people. Liang falling into this category while growing up, her parents sent her to a martial arts school where she took Wushu. Eventually, Longyun MMA product switched to wrestling and started to get serious to become a professional athlete.
However, MMA wasn’t really a business that was on its radar until it was inspired by one of its all-time greats.
“Around 2016, I was a wrestler back then,” Liang reflected when she made her MMA debut. “Coincidentally, I got to see a highlight of the Ronda Rousey battle and started to get interested in the sport. I thought wrestling had too many restrictions that didn’t allow martial artists to do everything, so I got interested in mixed martial arts.
“When I first started doing MMA, Ronda was the girl I admired because we have similar fighting styles and we’re both powerful grapplers. I would say Ronda is my idol.
Slowly building up his experience on a large scale, but quickly in terms of activity, Liang has already surpassed his biggest combat inspiration in number of fights. But just like Ronda Rousey, she was also excited because of her consistent finishing abilities in those 15 wins.
At UFC 261, Liang Na aims to continue his tradition of sidelining opponents. Brazilian Ariane Carnelossi (12-2), who returns for the first time since September 2019, will be the first to face him.
Realizing Carnelossi’s tenacity, Liang notes his foe’s latest performance against Angela Hill which resulted in a doctor’s arrest TKO. Regardless of the fact that Carnelossi isn’t going away on her own, Liang still believes she will manage to find another stoppage for the No.16 win because she simply considers herself the best fighter.
In what she sees as a dream come true, “Dragon Girl” made sure she was ready to be here. Likewise, in their reluctance to join the promotion too soon, the now UFC title holder of Liang’s division, her compatriot, Zhang Weili.
The big event on April 24 will see both fighters in action and proudly representing their nation’s strength – a task that fighters from China have had no problem successfully completing in recent years. Due to the growth and evolution of Chinese MMA that we have already seen quickly, Liang Na is not making this moment a very big showcase for everyone involved … but hey, there are still a lot of skeptics. who can still be educated.
“I think China has already shown its might in the wealth of fighters since Weili became champion,” she said. “But if one day two contenders who are both from China can fight for a title, it will show that we have reached another level.”