Revitalized Li eyes rise through UFC ranks
Boosted by a thrilling TKO win over an old acquaintance, Chinese fighter Li Jingliang now wants revenge over American Neil Magny as he rebuilds momentum in the packed welterweight division.,Known as an outspoken figure in the MMA community, Li lived up to his Octagon moniker “The Leech” at Saturday’s Ultimate Fighting Championship event, ruthlessly dispatching Russian kickboxing specialist Muslim Salikhov by second-round TKO in Long Island, New York.,Finishing off Salikhov with a one-two combination to his face followed by a barrage of elbows on the mat, Li secured his 19th career win, and 11th since signing up with the Las Vegas-based UFC. The win also paid a bonus of $50,000 against an opponent that Li described as one of his most respected foes.,”It was a great honor fighting against him, not to mention beating him in such a dominating way,” Li said during the post-fight interview.,”I’ve known Muslim since 2008 when I just started my career and we’ve practiced together a couple of times before. He is a legend in sanda, or Chinese kickboxing. I have a lot of respect for him,” said the 34-year-old native of Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.,Dubbed the “King of Kung Fu”, Salikhov has built a sound reputation in China since 2006 as an accomplished sanda master after fighting an array of local kickboxers with Chinese promotions in the birthplace of ancient martial arts. The 38-year-old also took pride from the fact that he’s recognized and welcomed in China.,”A lot of people in China’s sanda community wanted to see this fight,” Salikhov said. “We knew each other a long time ago, we trained with each other before. I fought a lot in China, I am kind of the biggest enemy for Chinese fighters in my category and people there respect that.”,The victory marked Li’s eighth KO or TKO win in UFC to tie him with Brazilians Thiago Alves and Vicente Luque for the second most in the division behind American Matt Brown (12).,It also announced his return from two frustrating losses at the hands of Magny in March 2020 and Khamzat Chimaev of Sweden in October last year.,”I am really looking forward to a rematch against Magny to undo what I’ve done wrong in the previous bout against him,” Li called out the American veteran during his post-fight news conference.,”Last time I wasn’t even close to my best. I wasn’t 100 percent. He neither knocked me out nor won by submission. It was a decision that I was not happy about,” said Li, who was beaten by Magny via unanimous decision in their first encounter at UFC 248 in Paradise, Nevada.,”I’ve learned a lot from the loss against him and my most recent defeat last year by Chimaev. I had a longer and better preparation for this fight and it paid off big time.”,With a win-loss record of 19-7, Li is expected to move up a spot from his current 14th place in the stacked UFC welterweight class, while the 12th-ranked Magny (26-9) also appears eager to come back strong from a submission loss to Shavkat Rakhmonov of Tajikistan last month.,With support from his club, China Top Team, Li arrived in the US in April to train at Sanford MMA, now rebranded as Kill Cliff FC, one of the world’s top MMA gyms at Deerfield Beach, Florida. There, he has been busy perfecting his striking, grappling, conditioning and strategy.,Yet, the long time away from home and family has been challenging, proving even MMA’s toughest brawlers can feel vulnerable.,”The biggest sacrifice is that I cannot stay with my family and my kids in particular. I miss them so much,” Li said while wiping away tears at his post-fight news conference.,”It’s the price we have to pay though. Winning in the Octagon takes not just power but also dedication and perseverance. I’ve been enjoying the process despite all the challenges,” he said.,Although not confirmed yet, Li said he expects to face Magny on Sept 17, when his compatriot Song Yadong is scheduled to fight fourth-ranked bantamweight contender Cory Sandhagen of the US as the main event of UFC Fight Night.,”I’d like to join Song to demonstrate the power of China under the spotlight,” said Li.