2020 was a year rich with new experiences for everyone around the world. Despite her status as an already historic figure and champion, that was magnified for “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan.
As ONE Championship 125-pound strawweight champion and China’s first-ever major MMA world champion, Xiong entered this past year coming off of only her second career loss in 17 outings. The 2019 defeat came in her epic champion vs. champion rematch with ONE atomweight titleholder Angela Lee where Xiong attempted to become a dual-division champion.
“2020 was an unforgettable, very difficult year,” Xiong told MyMMANews. “Though it was hard, I got more me-time than ever. I thought deeply about everything – happy or sad, up and down. So it’s really helped me grow, actually.
“I had pressure not only from the Angela Lee [rematch] but pressure from every fight I’m in. Because I always want to be the best one in ONE Championship so yes, I think I had to rebound. That fight I lost to Angela, I think I could have done better to make sure I don’t have any regrets in any next event. I’ve been training very, very hard every day since then. I come in good shape and make myself mentally strong as well. I’m looking forward not only to battle Angela Lee again but compete against other talents in the world. Because I love a challenge – especially a tough one.”
Not only was Xiong looking to do something rare by rebounding off a loss while still having a title, but she did so after leaving her longtime gym of Bali MMA for Singaporean powerhouse, Evolve MMA. That alone is a big enough transition, especially for an established champion.
However, the Jining, Shandong native shook things up amidst a global pandemic which made the transition struggles even greater. Limitation and training restrictions were mandatory, and no sparring was done for the next fight. Being the champion she is, it ultimately didn’t matter.
In her lone fight of the year, Xiong rematched the woman she beat to become champion, Tiffany Teo. This time around, their October clash saw all five rounds utilized but the result remained the same – “and still” for one of China’s finest.
“I really enjoyed all the time training in Bali MMA,” Xiong said. “It’s one of the memorable moments in my life. But Evolve has a lot of world-famous athletes and coaches. They all have different skills, especially wrestling, BJJ, and ground control skills. Those are what I need to improve myself because I used to be a boxer. I must work hard on ground fighting techniques, that’s what inspired me to move to Evolve.
“I think because I left my home at the age of 11, I was used to the whole environment the entire time. So when the first time went to Evolve, yes it was difficult for me because of the whole new environment and the whole new different skills. Like I said for the ground training. But I’m an independent girl, I’m a big girl now.”
Regardless of performing well enough to secure a unanimous decision nod, the champion wasn’t all too satisfied with her win. Xiong believes the limitations put a damper on her preparation and that was seen along with Teo admittedly having improved plenty since their initial 2018 meeting.
With 2021 fully in motion as we approach quarter two, the vicious striker is now allowed to at least spar as Singapore’s COVID-19 status has improved. That’s just one of the many aspects that has her thrilled to get back in action relatively quickly.
On May 28, Xiong Jing Nan will etch her name deeper into the MMA history books when she headlines ONE Championship’s first all-women’s event; ONE: Empower. In doing so, she takes on BJJ ace, Michelle Nicolini.
Coincidentally, the pair has plenty in common as they’re both the only two fighters to have handed the aforementioned Lee a loss. Accompany that with the fact that Nicolini has been an Evolve BJJ coach, Xiong is beyond excited for everything about this matchup.
Oh, then there’s also the big tournament that gets kicked off that same night…
“I’m so pumped, I’m so psyched about ONE: Empower because it’s an all-women’s card and I’m the main event that night,” Xiong said. “So I’ve been working very hard on improving my ground control to make myself a more competitive champ and I feel I can make a lot of progress, be stronger and more powerful than ever.
“I want to showcase my wrestling and ground fighting skills to fans in this event. Fans who witness this event will realize that Xiong Jing Nan is not only good at boxing but also has other decent stuff. Although you never know what’s going to happen in the circle, I promise I’ll do my best to finish the night in awesome fashion, as fast as possible.
“I think I can join the atomweight Grand Prix too!” Xiong excitedly added. “I’m interested in competing with the eight girls. As for a prediction, I think the Korean athlete [Seo Hee Ham] and Stamp Fairtex will have a tremendous [potential] fight.”
In terms of accomplishments, impact, and inspiration, Xiong Jing Nan may be one of the more underappreciated achievers MMA has seen to this point. Her place in history is solidified and slowly getting more and more recognized.
ONE: Empower is a great next step in adding to the legacy of one of China’s favorite fighting daughters. Unsurprisingly, she isn’t putting a ceiling on her all-time greatness potential as the hopefulness of a pursuit of that second title still lingers.
“Of course, I do want to compete against Angela Lee again,” Xiong expressed. “Even if I have to move down to atomweight, I still want to face Angela. Last time I don’t think I did good enough but now I have more weapons than ever. I’m much more powerful, a much different ‘Panda,’ an upgraded ‘Panda’ Xiong Jing Nan. So I can take her down easily next time we meet in the circle, I promise.”
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.