“I was like a wild animal leaving its mother for the very first time to hunt the prey. Having no fear but very excited no matter how dangerous it could be.”
The path to MMA success for Meng Bo started faster and more ferociously than it does for most. At just age 17, the Xi’an, China native went toe-to-toe with another human for the very first time. “I think at the age 16 – 17 is a good age to cultivate one’s mental toughness,” she told MyMMANews.
In the said debut, the young 115-pound athlete took on a future trailblazer in her country’s history. The two-round bout’s result seeing Meng’s hand raised via unanimous judge’s call.
While many who topple future legends early in their careers often fade into obscurity, Meng has done the opposite. Since her 2013 showdown with the now-UFC champion, Zhang Weili, she’s amassed a sturdy record of her own at 17-5. A clear top contender among her division’s ranks in ONE Championship, Meng’s potential was evident from the jump.
But despite her rise to this point, she remains largely viewed as “the fighter to have defeated Zhang.” At the moment, it’s a bittersweet moniker but motivation all the same.
“Yeah, I’m pretty annoyed with everyone comparing me with Zhang Weili,” Meng expressed with a smirk. “But it’s an honor to me as well. Though my record is not yet as shiny as Weili’s, my name Meng Bo has been mentioned with hers all the time. And now I set up a goal for myself that one day, and I do all my best effort to make that day come soon, that I will be the next MMA superstar. So people will take my name Meng Bo and they will ask Zhang Weili the other way around.
“I defeated Zhang Weili and no one can change that. We were not that experienced at that time, but we were not that amateur as well. Because we both had professional training and skills. And the other thing I think you have to know is we didn’t have many professional MMA promotions seven-eight years ago in China. So I think that is the reason it hasn’t been changed to amateur on our records. In my mind, it was still a professional fight.”
With 2021 positioning the defeated as one of the world’s best and the victor on the cusp of her own possible crowning, both women have been integral barrier-breakers for their country.
During a roller-coaster ride of a 2020 in the world, Meng found herself spending additional time in deep thought and getting in extra training. Overall, it’s led the 24-year-old to feel that she’s matured significantly mentally. Inside the cage, fans got to see a glimpse of that this past month when she extended her current streak to seven straight.
Taking on Brazil’s Samara Santos, Meng approached the bout more methodically than fans were accustomed to seeing — especially after her knockout of the year candidate in November vs. Priscilla Gaol.
A known finisher, the Chinese atomweight sensation would pick up just her second decision win among this seven-fight stretch.
Crediting her team as the biggest key on this run, Meng trusts her support to the fullest but still knows she has to work harder than ever with each new day.
“As you know, my other two fights in ONE were both finished by knockout but the Santos fight really took me the whole three rounds,” She began. “What I have learned from her is I really need to improve my ground fighting skills and also I had the weight cut problem last time and I really have done some deep self-reflection on myself because it’s no excuse. As a professional MMA fighter, I have to keep on a strict diet plan. So I had a very deep self-reflection after that.”
Communicating while stuck in her hotel quarantine after returning from Singapore, Meng Bo radiated a confidence sophisticated beyond her years — after bearing witness to her home’s recent accomplishments in her sport, hers included, how couldn’t she envision a bright future?
Tattooed across her right bicep reads “Belief” as a constant reminder to keep pushing towards becoming China’s next superstar. Exactly three years and two days before Meng’s most recent victory, the blossoming of China’s true MMA potential began.
ONE: Kings of Courage hosted the inaugural ONE strawweight title bout featuring Singapore’s Tiffany Teo against “The Panda,” Xiong Jing Nan. While both women aimed to make history in some facet, it would be China’s Xiong who captured gold via fourth-round TKO — making her the first major titleholder in MMA history from the world’s largest nation.
In that time, Meng and several others have gone on to prove just how much talent there is from their part of the world.
“I think you can say that China power has a really great position in the world right now,” She said. “Especially in the Chinese Kung Fu and other Chinese MMA skills, and sure, I want to be the next China representation in MMA so I can show the world how tough we Chinese women are.
“We Chinese have a tradition of martial arts that is centuries old. And I think our reputation as the birthplace of martial arts gives us a unique opportunity to present the world champions. We will be having more and more world champions. It’s just a matter of time.
“Jing Nan is the first-ever Chinese world champion in MMA history,” Meng noted. “This is a huge encouragement for every fan and athlete, including me. She really inspires me a lot. Her achievement has positive impact on the Chinese MMA industry and has made the world witness the power of China.”
Anticipating her 25th birthday in April, Meng Bo is the youngest of four sisters but is already a combat sports veteran of 11-plus years.
Like many practitioners of martial arts in China, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the striking style that is Sanda. As the country’s most popular martial art, Meng eventually began honing her craft in Sanda as well — but not until after starting with taekwondo at age 13.
If 17 wasn’t young enough to take up face-punching, the fact that her interest sprouted earlier was a bit jarring for her family initially.
But after you win so many times and show that you’re not half-bad, even the most stubborn of relatives have to be persuaded, right?
“Because MMA is more violent and physical, I really loved it, I was really into it,” Meng reflected. “I don’t really like that girly stuff, I’m really much more like a boy. So I think combat sports are good for me. I like the life.
“At first, my mother thought it was kind of dangerous because, you know, I’m a girl and in the Chinese tradition they think maybe I should do more girl stuff. When I began my combat sports journey at 13 years old, my mother tried to stop me from continuing on this path. But I told her I’m really into it, I really like it, so please let me continue my career. Then they agreed with me, especially my dad. He really supports me every fight. He will watch every fight and even give me some comments about it. But my mother, at the beginning, every time she watched my fights she would be like crying because she was thinking, ‘Wow, this is so dangerous, there’s a lot of blood,’ or something like that. But after all these years and they see the achievements I have accomplished, I think they’ve kind of gotten used to it. So they all support me.”
Since arriving in ONE Championship to close out 2019, Meng Bo has been right on track to obtain her goal of sitting side-by-side with the likes of Zhang and Xiong as China’s gold standards. Going forward, she’s closer than ever but might need to cement her status in the most profound way imaginable.
Mid-2020, the promotion revealed its intentions of putting together an atomweight grand prix tournament. Thus meaning that Meng would need to win an extra series of fights to reach the reigning champion, Angela Lee, who is currently sidelined awaiting the birth of her first child.
The prospect of the tournament hangs up in the air at this point. With that in mind, Meng has already begun preparing for the idea of five-round title fights as she hopes that she’ll get her own sooner rather than later.
One way or another, she intends to take out whoever stands in her path to etching her name in stone.
“Of course I prefer the title shot rather than the tournament,” Meng stated. “But I think it would be really cool if I got the grand prix gold and then to challenge the current champ. I believe I have the talent to dominate those [participating]. Yeah, I want the title shot but it’s really because Angela Lee is still pregnant right now. So I think just go with the tournament first and then then the title shot would be a good arrangement for the situation right now.
“I think if I have a fight coming soon with Angela Lee, no doubt it will be a very amazing fight. I know Angela is very good at ground fighting so I’m improving my ground game skill right now and I want her to take me down to the ground. I’m getting psyched every time I think I’m going to face her in the circle. She’s such a tough strong woman, she brings so many accomplishments. We were both born in the same year, we’re both 24-years old and I respect her. But I aggressively want to win her belt.”
As we’ve turned to a new year with 2020 in the rear-view mirror, Meng Bo’s ascent has already continued with her streak extension at ONE: Unbreakable I on Jan. 22.
Currently the No. 2 ranked contender in her division, Xi’an’s finest wants to stand alone with her name known by the world for more than just a singular victory — ultimately remaining unsatisfied until that’s the case.
“My biggest goal in 2021 is to get the No. 1 rank in my division,” Meng declared. “And the other is to win the ONE atomweight world grand prix. Now that Angela Lee can’t have any fight due to the pregnancy, I will be well prepared to win over the Grand Prix and wait for the title shot against her. So Angela, congratulations on becoming a new mom… but prepare to kiss your belt goodbye.”
Drake is an MMA writer based out of Brush Prairie, Washington, USA who specializes in feature pieces, the women’s fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake has most notably written for BJPenn.com, FanSided, The Body Lock, South China Morning Post, MyMMANews, WhatCulture, Cageside Press, Sherdog, The Scrap, and MMA Today. He has also written for and created video content for RT Sport. As for other sports, Drake is a longtime fan of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @DrakeRiggs_ . Also check out all of his video content on YouTube at YouTube.com/DrakeRiggs where he uploads fighter interviews, podshows, and various other types of content.