ONE Strawweight World Champion Xiong Jing Nan is an icon and an inspiration to millions in her homeland of China, but her legion of fans are only seeing the finished product.
What they do not know is the arduous journey of hard work and commitment that took “The Panda” to the pinnacle of the martial arts world.
Xiong’s progress to the top has been quick, but her story is nonetheless filled with hard work, commitment and sacrifice.
As a youngster, Xiong was a competitive weightlifter, but soon transitioned into boxing after latching onto a sport loved by her father.
“I liked boxing,” the 30-year-old says.
“My father always watched it when I was young.”
Xiong enjoyed the one-on-one competition of the sport, and she excelled at it.
She earned a spot on Shandong’s provincial team and claimed third place in the 2007 National Women’s Boxing Championship.
Her impressive results saw her called up to the Chinese national team, vindicating her decision to take up the sport. But it was not until she discovered mixed martial arts that “The Panda” found her true sporting passion.
“Boxing made me tougher, and I would not quit easily,” she explains.
“There were lots of gold, silver, and bronze medals that I won in my boxing career, but I was more willing to focus on my career in mixed martial arts.”
He mixed martial arts career started in 2013, and was determined to be as successful in the cage as she had been in the ring.
“I wanted to see a new, different me,” she says.
“I knew I could do it. I had faith in my heart. I wanted to do something different, and it was more challenging.
“I am a person who likes to challenge myself – who wants to soar higher and further. So I challenge myself to make what is impossible, possible. Even if there is no hope for success, I try my best to create that hope.”
Stepping into mixed martial arts with good boxing skills gave Xiong confidence in her ability to hold her own in the striking realm, but admits she was nervous when it came to dealing with the grappling arts.
“I was nervous, excited, and worried,” she admits.
“When those feelings hit you at the same time, it actually gives you a special motivation.”
Xiong took up the challenge of starting from scratch with her grappling, and threw herself into training. By 2014, she decided to jump straight into the professional ranks and test herself. It proved a good decision.
Xiong earned a dozen wins as a pro before being called up by ONE Championship to compete on the big stage.
And the Chinese star blazed a trail straight to the ONE Strawweight World Title, stopping April Osenio by first-round TKO, then finishing Tiffany Teo in the fourth round of a thrilling contest, again by TKO, to capture the inaugural title.
Xiong’s victory made history, as “The Panda” became the first Chinese athlete to win a global MMA world title.
“There were some other girls, but they did not make it to the end,” she says.
“They gave it up. I was not treated differently, because I never give up on what I really want.”
The secret of Xiong’s success is her attitude to her skill set and her humble assessment of her abilities.
When she arrived in the sport, she already had excellent boxing skills, but rather than lean too heavily on her strong suit, she threw herself into her weaknesses and developed her grappling to a similarly impressive level, even capturing a China Open BJJ title in 2017.
The result is a true mixed martial artist who has the ability to win contests on her feet on the mat.
Now settled at her training home at Bali MMA, Xiong continues to learn as she improves her skills ahead of her next challenge, a title defence against Brazil’s Samara Santos at ONE: BEYOND THE HORIZON on 8 September in Shanghai.
“Every place has a new thing for me to learn,” she says.
“As long as there are new things to learn, I will be like a sponge.”
And if Xiong continues learning and developing as successfully as we have seen so far in her career, “The Panda” will prove a tough champion to unseat.