In the span of three weeks, “The Underdog” Li Kai Wen produced two of the most memorable performances of 2018.
First, the Tianjin, China native set the ONE record for the fastest featherweight stoppage by knocking out Rodian Menchavez in 10 seconds at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER on 23 June.
The 22-year-old followed that up with a dynamic performance at ONE: PURSUIT OF POWER on 13 July. He put a stamp on a back-and-forth affair when he knocked out Emilio “The Honey Badger” Urrutia in the third round.
Li is still highly motivated to challenge two-division ONE World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen for the featherweight belt, but he knows he will have to face the division’s elite martial artists to get there.
In this exclusive interview, the Chinese contender breaks down his victory over Urrutia, where he stands among the division’s top contenders, and much more.
ONE Championship: Congratulations on your big win over Emilio Urrutia. What was your game plan for the match, and how were you able to execute your strategy?
Li Kai Wen: It was the first time that I had such a quick turnaround. I realized that my body was pretty worn out from all my training, starting at the beginning of this year.
Because of that, my game plan was to end the fight as early as possible. I tried to execute it, but Emilio was able to weather the storm in the first round.
ONE: You nearly knocked him out in the first round, and finally did in the third. What was your game plan in the later rounds, and how important was that knockout for you?
LKW: First of all, Emilio is one tough dude. I was exhausted after the first round, and in the second round, Emilio started to mount his offense through a very tactical approach – he was light on his feet, and tagged me with his jabs.
I was trying to conserve my energy in the second round and wait for my opportunity to deliver the finishing blows, and it finally came in the third round.
Every knockout is a testament of a fighter’s prowess. This knockout is especially important to me, because it was a back-and-forth fight, and we both put everything on the line.
Took a loss tonight nothing but respect to my opponent @likaiwen_mma you earned this victory and I wish you the best. Big ups to @onechampionship and all their staff for always giving us athletes the best care and foundation to display our art. Nothing is gonna stop me from achieving what I want in this sport. Im just getting started and the best is yet to come. #ONEChampionship #losingsucks #highesthighslowestlows #HoneyBadgerl
ONE: What prompted your outpouring of emotion in the cage after your victory?
LKW: This fight with Emilio pushed me to another level – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. There were times in the fight, especially in the second round, where I wanted to give up.
The only thing that held me together is spirit – not just mine, but the spirit of my country, my family, my coaches, and my teammates. I could not have done it without them. After the fight, I had a lot of gratitude in my heart and my mind.
ONE: How did you celebrate this momentous win?
LKW: There was no immediate celebration, I went back to my hotel room, and just laid there. I was in a lot of pain, especially my left leg.
Emilio actually asked me on Facebook to join him for a beer. I thought to myself: “This dude is tough! I cannot even walk, and this dude is out strolling about!”
I did go to my family’s home in Hunan a couple days after I arrived back in Tianjin, and spent about a week with them.
ONE: This was your second knockout in three weeks. What statement did you make with these two victories?
LKW: The statement is loud and clear: I will fight anybody in this division that is put in front of me. I will exert my dominance in this division, and go after the title.
ONE: The top of the division is crowded with former World Champions like Narantungalag Jadambaa and Marat Gafurov, as well as former challengers like Christian Lee. How do you match up with those three men?
LKW: I have to measure myself against everybody in this division, especially the top contenders. When I become the World Champion, it will be undisputed. Most importantly, I have to know in my heart that I have total dominance in this division, and the only way to accomplish that is to beat them all – with or without the belt.
I have the utmost respect for Jadambaa – he is a pioneer of the sport, a warrior, and a true champion. It would be an honor for me to fight him. Against Jadambaa, I believe that my advantage would be my youth.
Christian is more of a complete fighter, and his skills are improving as we speak. It would be a fight between two young lions, and aggression would be key.
As for Marat, we all kind of know what his game plan is going to be. Careful planning and execution of the game plan will be key against Marat.
ONE: How do you think a rematch with Martin Nguyen for the belt would play out?
LKW: I will finish the job the next time we meet. I will be more patient and stick to the game plan.
ONE: You ended 2017 with a defeat via disqualification, but you rebounded with three wins so far in 2018. What do you credit your incredible form to?
LKW: Having the blemish of a disqualification on my record really haunted me, but it became a motivator to propel me forward.
I have embraced hard work, determination, persistence, and perseverance, and I endure the grind day in and day out.
I would also like to credit my turnaround to my coaches, my teammates, and my manager. They stuck by my side this entire time, and I often get inspiration from them.