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'Supermom' waging caged crusade

China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-24 07:21

Rising Shanghai star personifies China's growing appetite for mixed martial arts

 'Supermom' waging caged crusade

MMA fighter Miao Jie (left) works with a trainer on Nov 7. The 30-year-old Shanghai native and single mother, who needed a total of just 94 seconds to win her first two fights in Asia's professional mixed martial arts ONE Championship, has her sights set on helping vault MMA into China's sports mainstream.Chandan Khanna / Agence France - presse

SHANGHAI - Her toothy smile and "Supermom" nickname may not seem very intimidating, but that changes when Chinese mixed martial artist Miao Jie steps into the cage.

The 30-year-old Shanghai native and single mother is now 2-0 in Asia's ONE Championship professional mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion after blitzing her opponents to win in 49 and 45 seconds, respectively.

A title bout remains a distant dream but Miao - who fights to support the three-year-old son she calls "Peanut" - is among a growing number of Chinese fighters, fueling predictions of an MMA explosion in the birthplace of martial arts.

A former judoka, Miao switched to MMA, the formidable multi-discipline amalgam of grappling and striking typified by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) stars such as Ireland's Conor McGregor.

But outside the ring she's a dedicated parent to son Li Muyuan, arranging her five daily hours of grueling training around his sleep and meal schedules.

"It's like how some people are motivated by listening to music. My motivation is my son. Without my son, I feel like I can't do anything," she said.

'Supermom' waging caged crusade

Accurate estimates of Chinese MMA enthusiasts remain elusive, but gyms and provincial-level competitions are proliferating, and with a pool of state-nurtured athletes like Miao, China is considered the sport's next frontier.

Mainland first

The sport will take a major step on Saturday when UFC - the world's richest MMA promotion - holds its first Fight Night on the Chinese mainland at Shanghai's Mercedes Benz Arena.

It will include bouts featuring foreign and Chinese combatants such as Li "The Leech" Jingliang, a bruiser with a 13-4 record.

The sport got a free PR boost in China this year when a Chinese MMA fighter challenged a traditional martial artist, taking him apart in seconds.

A viral video of the white-washing sparked national soul-searching over the efficacy of classic martial arts in a real fight, but also underscored the belief that a mix of old and new could fuel a massive Chinese market.

"You're going to start seeing some of that 'China, the birthplace of martial arts' manifested in the octagon (ring) soon because it's rising here," said UFC Asia-Pacific vice-president Kevin Chang.

"A lot of that is still untapped. We still have a long way to grow."

Singapore-based ONE already has dozens of Chinese fighters under contract, recruited from gyms across the country, and plans four China events next year.

It could stage up to 25 cards a year in China soon, said ONE chief executive Victor Cui, who relocated to Shanghai a year ago.

"Here, whether you are five years old, whether you are a 105-year-old grandmother - you know martial arts, you know Bruce Lee, you know Jackie Chan, you know Jet Li. So our ability to reach and connect with a fanbase is a lot easier," Cui said.

"So definitely our focus is China right now."

Doping cast a shadow over Saturday's UFC card when MMA legend Anderson Silva was scrubbed from the main event over a positive drug test.

Chang said that underlined the UFC's "strong" anti-doping stance.

No 2-ranked UFC middleweight contender Michael Bisping (31-8), fighting out of England, will take Silva's place in the event main against No 8-ranked Kelvin Gastelum (14-3, 1 NC) of the US.

Search for a champ

Chang said a Chinese champion would be a game-changer.

"If over the next 10 years we get a Chinese fighter with the charisma and skill of McGregor, that changes everything. That could be in three years... or it could be much sooner," he said.

"Supermom" hopes she will be the one.

Miao said she was "hyperactive and uninterested" at school, and was steered into the state judo system, making Shanghai's provincial team.

The 5-foot-3 Miao switched in 2010 to Brazilian jiu-jitsu before jumping this year into MMA.

It didn't go well at first.

A lopsided loss in an April provincial competition, her first bout, left her with a fractured vertebrae. She was bed-ridden for four months, which only fueled her motivation to fight for "Peanut".

"Everything became clear to me then. I wanted to take on my greatest challenge and fight in MMA," said Miao, who debuted for ONE in Shanghai in September and fought again last month in Yangon, Myanmar.

Spurred by "Jia You!" ("Go for it!") voice recordings from "Peanut", she pounced on her Australian opponent in Yangon, forcing her to tap out with a painful armhold.

"My next goal is a championship belt," she said.

"I was really encouraged by my two wins and feel that I am improving each time I fight."

Agence France - presse

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